It's my pleasure to share with you the story of our September 2013 cruise on the Carnival Conquest. If you're considering a cruise on the Conquest and you Googled it and found this page... I just want you to know that I wrote this page just for you.
We've cruised with Carnival many times before... this was our 19th Carnival cruise! We also did one cruise on Norwegian Cruise Line... but that was significantly inferior to the Carnival experience... so we've always stuck with Carnival since then. But that makes this our 20th cruise overall! We consider ourselves to be very lucky to be able to cruise so often... typically four weeks a year.
I'll be sharing with you a lot of pictures and videos that I took onboard the Carnival Conquest. Every picture and video on this page is my original creation... none are stock images or supplied by Carnival. Most of these photos were taken with my Canon Digital Rebel T5i camera... which is the latest camera in Canon's Digital Rebel series. A few were taken with a waterproof Olympus camera that I also carry along with me on vacations.
Before we get going, I think introductions are in order...
I'm Jim Zimmerlin (everyone calls me Jim Zim) and I'm cruising with my wife,
(Pronunciation tip: it rhymes with Helen.)
We're from Grover Beach, California...
a little town on the California coast about halfway between Los Angeles and San Francisco.
The upper decks, including the waterslide, main pool area, and Seaside Theatre screen...
looking towards the rear of the ship
Looking in the other direction, towards the waterslide.
Sunrise and sunset provide the most dramatic lighting,
so a lot of my outdoor photos are taken during those times.
The main lobby of the Carnival Conquest
The atrium, which soars above the lobby.
The interior design of the ship is based on a French impressionist style theme,
and this large mural in the ship's atrium is one of many design features within the ship that are part of that theme.
The French impressionist theme was chosen as a salute to the Conquest's long-time home port of New Orleans.
(However, beginning in November of 2013 the ship will be based out of Miami.)
A better look at that big French impressionist themed mural in the atrium.
I wonder if the people who see this from the glass elevators even know what they're looking at.
By the way, I read somewhere that Carnival is going to do away with the big atriums starting with
the new Carnival Vista (now under construction) which is set to debut in 2016.
I guess they decided that a big empty atrium is a waste of space that would make more money if it were cabins.
Carnival's whale-tail funnel smoke stack makes it easy to spot a Carnival ship from a distance
This is the aft elevator lobby on Lido deck, which leads to the adults-only aft pool
as well as the 24-hour pizza station
On the right... our favorite little corner table in the Cezanne dining room,
which is the casual buffet restaurant on Lido deck.
The big picture windows allow for a fantastic view.
A wider shot of the Cezanne restaurant on Lido deck... where we ate all of our meals.
The name of the dining room is another of many salutes to the French Impressionism art style.
A few folks (but not many) come out to watch the sunrise each morning
Another sunrise shot. Mostly the decks are empty at this hour.
Over the years, we have tried just about every type of cabin Carnival offers... starting with the cheapest cabin Carnival offered on our first cruise back in 1996, and working our way up to better and better cabins over the years. For quite a while, we decided that the "sweet spot" for us (offering the best tradeoff of comfort versus price) was a standard balcony cabin. Later, we did several cruises in what Carnival calls "spa balcony cabins"... which is a balcony cabin located near the spa area, and which includes full access to all the amenities of the spa... and which also has the added benefit of being located in a no-smoking section of the ship.
This time, we decided to step it up another notch. It was our first cruise in what's known as an "aft-wrap balcony". That's a cabin at the aft (rear) of the ship, with a gigantic balcony that wraps all the way around the back corner of the ship. Let's take a look...
A portion of the balcony of cabin 8455 on the Carnival Conquest
Because the balcony curves around the corner of the
ship, you can't get it all in to one photo.
In the next photo, you can see the rest of our balcony.
Notice that this section of the balcony has a big metal thing up above it. That's quite handy... as it provides shade. Sometimes the rear portion of the balcony can be so sunny as to be too warm... and in those times, it's nice to be able to just walk around the corner and sit in the shady side. There's also a little bit of a breeze over there, because that side of the ship is more exposed to the wind of the moving ship.
Photos really don't do it justice, though... because the balcony is so big and the shape so unusual that it won't fit in to one photo. The best way to really see what's so special here is to see it on video. Take a look...
(To start the video playing, click on the triangle in the center of the picture)
We both enjoyed just sitting out on the balcony and watching the wake trail behind the ship. When we booked this cabin, I worried that it might end up being noisy out here... because I noticed on previous cruises while taking walks around the aft of the ship that the sound of the propeller churning up the water can be quite loud. But it was not a problem this high up from the water, on deck eight. I realized that when I had heard those water noises before, it had been on much lower decks that were closer to the water.
I had also read some things on Cruise Critic about soot from the smokestacks occasionally drifting on to the aft balconies of Carnival ships... horror stories where someone wearing white pants would sit down on a deck chair and then discover that there was a thin layer of soot on the chair. It must have happened on some different class of Carnival ship with a different aft design. It never happened to us at all.
In the mornings, the sun feels great out here... and it's wind protected, which makes it so nice.
Later in the day, as things heat up, it's nice out here as long as you can find some shade.
Notice that the door out to the balcony can be propped open.
It's the first time I've ever found a Carnival balcony door that will remain propped open on its own.
Kellyn loved to sit outside on the balcony and read books on her Kindle:
Notice the two big picture windows, which offer a great view from inside
In the hallway outside our cabin, you can see that next to our cabin door is another door marked "emergency exit" and "crew only":
I had read about this "crew only" door on Cruise Critic. Out of respect for the rules of the ship, I never opened it. But I understand that it leads to a stairway that goes all the way from the top deck down to the bottom of the ship. In an emergency, or if one were inclined to break the rules, you could simply go through this door and climb one set of stairs and be up on Lido deck by the aft pool in a matter of a few seconds.
That brings up a very minor negative thing I have to say about cabin 8455. It's one deck below Lido, and directly above the cabin is a dining area near the aft pool, that looks out the back of the ship. Because of the great view, it's popular. The problem is that people will scoot the chairs when sitting at the tables or when getting up afterwards. This chair scooting sound can be heard very clearly through the ceiling of the cabin.
The chair scooting noises really didn't turn out to be much of a problem for us. Each evening at around 8 PM, the staff would actually take those chairs away from the tables and stack them so that they couldn't be used. So, after 8 PM, when you really don't want to be listening to chair scooting noises in your cabin, it simply doesn't happen. The rest of the day, you're just not sitting in your cabin much to hear it! Out on the balcony, where we spent most of our time, we just didn't hear it.
The one other minor negative thing I'll say about cabin 8455 is that the wi-fi signal strength back there is a little weak. There was a signal, but at times it faded in and out. Out of all the Carnival cruises we've been on, that's the only time I ever noticed anything less than a full-strength wi-fi signal. I guess at the back of the boat, we were just a tiny bit too far away from wherever the wi-fi repeater was. As usual for a cruise ship, the Internet connection was poor at times... but that had nothing to do with the wi-fi signal. That's a whole different issue!
This picture may help you to visualize where our cabin and balcony was in relation to some other things on the ship. You can see that we were one deck below the aft pool and casual restaurant... as well as the 24-hour pizza place, and 24-hour ice cream and frozen yogurt dispensers! This was such a convenient location for us! It was an easy walk up one flight of stairs to get to any of those things. You could easily walk down a few flights of stairs (or take the elevator) to the comedy club. If you were inclined to eat in the formal restaurant (which we never did) that was also just a few flights of stairs directly below us.
Notice the mooring line storage area in the photo. The only reason I point that out is that I think it's interesting that this was the ignition point for several bad fires on cruise ships in recent memory. There was a fire in the mooring line area just a few months earlier on Royal Caribbean's Grandeur Of The Seas. You can read about that incident here. Also, I remember the spectacular fire broadcast on live TV in 1998 of the Carnival Ecstasy on fire just off the coast of Miami. You can read about that one here. Both of those fires started in the mooring line storage areas. There may have been other similar incidents... those just happen to be two I recall. I just found that interesting, since I was sleeping a few decks above it on Carnival Conquest!
Our first experience with an aft-wrap balcony cabin definitely won't be our last! My wife and I are sun people. We're from a California beach town. We enjoy life outside on the patio... in the sun. So, this type of cabin with the gigantic balcony was absolutely perfect for us. In fact, after our great experience in an aft-wrap on the Conquest, we decided to book a 2014 cruise in an aft-wrap balcony cabin on a sister ship, the Carnival Glory... and this time, we'll be staying for two weeks instead of just one! That's how much we loved it.
If you're considering a cruise in an aft-wrap cabin, just be advised that there are only a few of them on each ship... and they're so popular that they are usually among the first cabin categories to sell out. So, if you want one, you usually have to book it pretty far in advance. One other note... don't even think about booking an aft-wrap cabin with another cruise line. If an aft-wrap is what you want, Carnival is definitely the way to go. The price simply can't be beat. The price of our little aft-wrap cabin for the two of us for the week was about $2,200. Just for fun, I priced out an aft-wrap cabin on a similar cruise on Princess... and it was a staggering $6,400. Are you starting to see why Carnival is our cruise line of choice?!?
Now, we get in to a few photos that frequent cruisers know as "food porn"! We actually elected to make this a totally casual cruise and never set foot in the main dining room or the steakhouse during the entire week. We ate every meal buffet-style, on Lido deck. So, instead of regular food porn, this will be "casual food porn".
Earlier this year, we cruised on the Carnival Breeze... and it was our first experience with what are known as Carnival's "Funship 2.0" enhancements. These include a number of enhancements to the entertainment, bars, and food options on the ship. Only a few of the ships in Carnival's fleet have the "Funship 2.0" enhancements, so far... most do not. During our cruise on the Carnival Breeze, I liked the Funship 2.0 improvements so much that I pretty much decided that any future Carnival cruises were going to have to be on ships that had the enhancements. And that's one of the main things that led us to the Carnival Conquest.
My absolute favorite of all the Funship 2.0 enhancements is "Guy's Burger Joint"... it's a fantastic improvement over the regular hamburgers they serve at lunch time on the older ships. As soon as we boarded the Conquest in New Orleans, I couldn't wait to have one again. It had been way too long since I had one on the Carnival Breeze. (OK, in reality, I'm quite spoiled... it had only been about five months. But in those five months, I must have craved a Guy Fieri burger a thousand times!)
In the foreground, you can see my lunch choice:
"The Ringer" from Guy's Burger Joint... plus the "D.O.D."... drink of the day.
The Ringer is a cheeseburger topped with an onion ring and a special sauce. It's absolutely delicious!
Notice that Kellyn has ordered a much healthier meal.
This explains a lot about why I weigh in about 100 pounds heavier than her!
The burgers at Guy's Burger Joint are available in several varieties...
SMC = Super Melty Cheese LTOP = Lettuce Tomato Onion Pickle
During our cruise five months earlier on the Carnival Breeze, I noticed that they were really stingy with the fries at Guy's Burger Joint... sometimes literally only putting 6 or 7 on your plate. I quickly learned on the Breeze to ask for extra fries. However, Carnival must have gotten some feedback on this... as it was not the situation five months later on the Conquest. They were a lot more generous with the fries. One other note about the fries... feel free to ask for just fries (no burger) if you get a craving at some point during the day.
Another one of the food enhancements in the Funship 2.0 initiative was an improvement to the pizza. They've gone to a true Italian style of pizza (as opposed to an American style) and I really like it a lot. I've actually never had pizza like this before... it's got an extremely thin crust. With a super-thin crust like that, you have to also keep the amounts of sauce, cheese, and toppings very low in order to keep it all in proportion. Therefore, it's like "pizza lite"... there's almost nothing there! It's really kind of cool... because you can have a slice or two and not worry that you've just had a million calories. It really is pizza lite.
Which brings me to another observation of something I noticed was different on the Conquest from my cruise five months earlier on the Carnival Breeze. On the Breeze, if you asked for pizza... they would give you one slice, unless you specifically asked for more. On the Conquest, if you asked for pizza they generally defaulted to offering you two slices... unless you specifically asked for less. I think they must have gotten some feedback about the pizza being so "lite" that you really needed two pieces to equal one American slice. Anyway, I'm a fan... I think the new Carnival pizza is quite good! My one suggestion to Carnival cruisers is to be sure to sprinkle some Parmesan cheese on it, like this...
Sprinkling some Parmesan cheese on to Carnival pizza makes it even better!
While we're on the subject of food and drink... I have to tell you about another one of my favorite Funship 2.0 features. On ships that have a Blue Iguana Tequila bar up on Lido deck (for example, the Carnival Conquest) you can order a pitcher of margaritas. I'm pretty sure that this is not something offered on Carnival's other ships that don't yet have the Blue Iguana Tequila bar. It's a lot cheaper (and a lot more convenient) to buy a pitcher of margaritas than it is to buy them by the glass. Two people out on a big balcony with a pitcher of margaritas... it's a recipe for a fun afternoon, that's for sure! Including the tip, a pitcher of margaritas will set you back a little less than $30.
Speaking of drinking margaritas...
We also discovered something fun that we hadn't seen on Carnival ships before. It's probably available on all the ships now... I imagine it's new and we just haven't seen it before. Kellyn and I have a thing for parrots. We like them! In fact, years ago, we used to have a macaw as a pet. Anyway, as parrot lovers, imagine our delight when we saw these new souvenir glasses that Carnival is offering...
On a day when we felt like just one margarita each,
rather than splitting an entire pitcher,
we ordered our drinks in these souvenir cups!
I mentioned that they did a few things differently on this ship than I had seen on my previous Carnival cruises... like serving a lot more French fries, and serving two pieces of pizza instead of just one. There was one other interesting little thing that I noticed that was different on this cruise...
First, a little background. If you've ever been on a Carnival cruise, you've probably noticed that they make an effort to address you by your first name. I'm sure they do it to try to make you feel at home, and to feel welcome. They even ask about it in the little satisfaction surveys that they send to passengers after the cruise... several questions about whether or not the crew members addressed you by name, and even specifically which departments did or did not.
But it's always seemed awkward to me, because the foreign crew members did it wrong! My full name is James Zimmerlin... and on every cruise before this, I have been addressed by crew members as "Mr. James". I'm sure in their culture, the "mister" is a sign of respect... and that they don't recognize that even though all my documents say my name is James... it's a formal name, and in most situations it's inappropriate to call me that. No one at home calls me Mr. James... they call me Jim. But nobody ever clued the Carnival crew in on that. Until recently, I guess! For the first time in 19 cruises with Carnival, this time they called me "Jim" without me having to request it. It's a little thing, but it shows that Carnival continues to try to improve on all things big and small.
One thing hasn't changed from the very first Carnival cruise we took back in 1996: towel animals! Each evening, when you come back from dinner, you'll find that the cabin steward has been in to clean up your room, turn down your bed, and has left a towel animal to keep you company. Here's one of our favorites from this cruise:
Note the mints on top!
One thing that's way better now than when we first started cruising is the emphasis on comedy. During a 7-day Carnival cruise, you'll be entertained by FOUR different comedians in the Punchliner Comedy Club.
Comedian CeeJay Jones performing on the Carnival Conquest
Carnival is great about providing a wide variety of comedy onboard. I mentioned that you can see four different comedians during the week. Each one will do a family-friendly show in the early evening, and then an anything-goes adults-only show later at night. If you like to laugh, you'll enjoy cruising with Carnival.
Speaking of entertainment...
Carnival has done something really interesting with the shows in the main theatre. They've gotten away from using physical sets and human extras... they now have a very expensive set of video screens as a backdrop, and sets are now simply videos displayed on the screen. Also, human extras (for example, extra dancers in a big production number) are gone... and have been replaced by extras on the video screen. Sometimes it's hard to tell what's real on the stage and what's just a video! I know that sounds like a bit of a cheat... and I'm sure the main motivation was to eliminate labor costs... but it's actually pretty cool the way it ends up enhancing the action on stage. Imagine things in the background that can bounce up and down with the music! Or a big dance production number featuring 60 dancers... but only the six in front are real! It's interesting to see how tightly integrated all the electronic backgrounds are with the musical numbers on stage. Take a look at this short video to get a glimpse for yourself...
A "Playlist Productions" presentation of "Divas"
There was an unfortunate incident during our cruise. A female crew member lost her footing on a slippery floor, and hit her head hard when she landed on the ground. It was a serious enough injury to require hospitalization... so, for the first time on all of our cruises, we got to witness a medical evacuation by the U.S. Coast Guard.
As you can see from the still photo, I had a really great vantage point to witness the medevac. Of course, I went to capture it on video... and I shot a bit of it until one of the Carnival security guys asked me to turn my camera off. He claimed that the type of camera I was using caused some kind of electrical interference that might interfere with the navigation devices on the helicopter. I certainly wasn't going to argue the point with him... the last thing I wanted to do was to interfere with a medical evacuation in any way. Besides, it's pretty much the same thing they say on airplanes... to turn off ALL electronic devices. So, while hundreds of other passengers shot pictures and video with their cell phones and pocket cameras... I shut my DSLR off before the really dramatic part of the medevac got under way. But as luck would have it, Kellyn had a view of the helicopter from our balcony... and shot some video with her iPhone. I've spliced together the stuff I got with my Digital Rebel with the stuff she got on her iPhone... and offer you the following video of the medevac:
There was one other really unusual thing that happened during this cruise... something that had never happened to us on any of our previous cruises. One day, when we were out at sea and about 150 miles from the nearest land, we had our balcony door propped open (as usual) and a little bird -- a finch -- flew in to our cabin! He was so tired from all that flying that he didn't put up much of a fight when I picked him up and handed him over to Kellyn...
Something I haven't seen on a cruise ship in a long time is a passenger talent show. I remember that they did used to do this years ago on some of our first cruises, but in recent years they seemed to have gotten away from it. I enjoyed seeing the one on the Carnival Conquest... we had some very talented passengers! Sometimes at passenger talent shows you get people that do comedy, or who play a musical instrument... but this time it was 100% a singing show... very much like watching karaoke, but with a live band in the background. If you're in to karaoke, or want to see for yourself what the level of talent was among the passengers on our cruise, take a look... just be forewarned that this video goes on and on... and that it seemed like they (probably on purpose) put the least talented singer on first and saved the most talented guy for last. So, don't let the first song scare you off!
I'm really mad at myself because I made a bad mistake while shooting the video. I paused the recording in between acts because I didn't think there was any reason to record all the chatter by the host. However, this ended up being a bad mistake... as I had the recording paused when Gary Brierley, the Cruise Director, offered a beautifully delivered version of a joke that I've heard Cruise Directors make at shows on many of our previous cruises. I guess it's a standard Carnival Cruise Director joke... but I wish I had caught it on video, because Gary delivered it so well. It would have been a great addition to the video, if only I had kept the camera rolling in between acts... but let me see if I can at least give you the text version of the joke that had everyone in the theatre laughing out loud.
Gary: "I'd like to give a big shout-out to some of the guys behind the scenes that help put on our show. I'm talking about our sound and lighting guys. And tonight I have to give a big shout-out to one in particular... Tony, up in the booth. We got some fantastic news today... Tony's wife delivered healthy twin boys last night." (Big applause from the audience) "Folks, working on a cruise ship can be a really tough life for our crew members... with long stretches of time at sea, away from their loved ones at home. In fact, Tony's been working here on the ship for the last eleven months straight!"
One of my favorite places on Conquest-class ships (we've sailed on the Glory and the Valor prior to our cruise on the Conquest) is the aft pool. It's got several things going for it. First off, it's adults-only... so you don't get any screaming kids back here. Second, it's really mellow back here... unlike the atmosphere of the main pool in the center of the ship where there's always loud music playing and crazy activities like the hairy chest competition. The aft pool area is also somewhat wind protected, because of the way it is set down below the upper deck and behind some taller structures.
Another great thing about the aft pool is that there is a glass roof that can be closed in the event of bad weather. Most of the time, the retractable dome is left open to let the sun shine in... and it feels great back here on a sunny day. But on those rare occasions when a thunderstorm strikes up... the dome can be closed and the aft pool area becomes a very warm and comfortable indoor pool.
We only ran in to some very brief periods of bad weather during our cruise on the Conquest. The crew was really great about closing the dome when they noticed bad weather was coming. This was in stark contrast to the experience we had once on the Carnival Spirit where the crew claimed that the dome could not be closed when the ship was moving. When bad weather hit the Carnival Spirit during a "Fun Day At Sea", they never closed the dome... and the entire pool area become unusable in bad weather. But on the Conquest, they seemed to have no problem opening and closing the dome as needed... whether the ship was in motion or not.
Perhaps you've seen the CBS television series "Under The Dome". I had a lot of fun making jokes about being "under the dome" at the aft pool during bad weather!
Speaking of bad weather... the day we really hit it was during the cruise's first port of call: Key West, Florida. Let me paint the picture of how that day went. It started with a moment of irony! Early in the morning, as the sun was rising and I was walking around taking pictures up on the upper deck, they had "Good Morning America" playing on the Seaside Theatre screen.
The ironic part is that if you look real closely at the picture on the Seaside Theatre screen, you'll see that they were interviewing swimmer Diana Nyad by satellite from Key West, Florida. I thought that was pretty funny, since we were about an hour from docking at Key West at that time! Anyway, as you can see in the picture... there were some clouds in the sky that morning, but the weather really didn't look too bad.
As we arrived in Key West, I shot some video of the Carnival Imagination, which had arrived in Key West just a little bit before us. If you think that cruise ships are beautiful things (like I do) take a look at the video for a long loving look at the Carnival Imagination. (Notice that the weather was starting to get cloudy at that point in the day.)
Remember... to start the videos playing, just click on the play button in the middle of the picture. (It's in the shape of a triangle.)
Kellyn and I had never been to Key West before, so we elected to just explore the town on our own rather than do any kind of organized excursion. We noticed that the weather had gotten mostly cloudy, and that the weather forecast was calling for a 30% chance of thundershowers. So, we brought a small umbrella along with us. You can see that the skies were threatening as we got off the ship and snapped a photo of a local fisherman at the dock.
We walked around the commercial district of Key West, exploring the shops and hoping to find a good restaurant where we could stop for lunch. I had a craving for Mexican food, so I was keeping my eye out for a Mexican restaurant. I wasn't sure if Florida's style of Mexican food would be different than what I had come to expect and enjoy in California, though. When it was getting close to lunch time, Kellyn announced that I needed to find a bathroom for her. She made a big point that it had to be a CLEAN bathroom and not some filthy mess of a public toilet. So, as we continued our walk around Key West, my new goal was to find a Mexican restaurant that looked like it would have a clean bathroom. And right about at that exact moment, we noticed this:
Well, that was quite a sight! My first thought, of course, was "Hey, Kel, there's a toilet you can use... and it's right in front of a Mexican restaurant!" But as I thought about what I was seeing, I realized that I had stumbled on to the Holy Grail... a Mexican restaurant that had just recently replaced the toilet in their bathroom and had the old one sitting out waiting for the next trash pickup. Surely, this would be the cleanest toilet in all of Key West, and it came with a Mexican restaurant as part of the deal! Absolutely perfect!
So, that was our lunch stop... and yes, the bathroom was acceptable to Kellyn. The only problem was that the restaurant sucked! Or at least, what we ordered sucked. Maybe we just ordered the wrong thing... but it was awful. Even the margaritas were awful... because the restaurant didn't have a liquor license and had to make Margaritas with wine instead of with tequila. But at least the bathroom was fine, so that Kellyn would be happy. However, I think she was a bit unhappy with my decision to just spend the day walking around and exploring the town. Fairly soon after lunch, she said she was getting tired of walking around and wanted to just go back to the ship. So, we ended up back on the ship a lot earlier than many of the other passengers... and that ended up totally working out to our advantage... because shortly after we got back to the comfort and safety of our cabin, the clouds opened up and it started to totally pour rain outside. That wasn't a problem for us, all nice and warm in our cabin, but it was a real problem for the people who got caught outside in a line waiting to go through security to get back onboard the ship.
Conquest passengers caught in the pouring rain, waiting to get back onboard the ship in Key West
Later, the Carnival Imagination set sail under very cloudy skies:
Notice that an airplane was coming in for a landing at the Key West airport as I snapped this photo
When it was our turn to sail away from Key West, I set up my camera to capture a time-lapse video of our departure:
A few hours later, the rain had long since stopped... but there were just enough clouds for a beautiful sunset...
Our second port-of-call was Freeport, on Grand Bahama island in the Bahamas. As we pulled in to Freeport, we found the Carnival Fantasy had beat us there that morning.
Freeport is a very industrial port, rather than being in a big tourist zone like the port of Key West. There are a few bars and restaurants right on the dock at Freeport... which cater exclusively to cruise ship people... but other than that, if you want to see Grand Bahama island, you pretty much have to take some kind of shore excursion involving getting on a bus to go see or do something. We're beach/water/sun people... so we elected to take what's known as the "Freeport Power Catamaran Snorkel" excursion. This starts with a long bus ride over to the other side of the island... then you get on a big catamaran and head out to the reef which surrounds the island. Once at the reef, there's some good snorkeling... with lots of fish to see. Further down this page, almost at the bottom, you'll find a video of some of the highlights of this cruise... including a brief underwater shot that shows all those fish!
Even in ports-of-call where it's possible to book independent third-party shore excursions, we always book our shore excursions through Carnival. We do this for three main reasons:
You're never going to get left behind somewhere and miss the ship when you're on a Carnival shore excursion. The ship will always wait for a Carnival shore excursion to return... no matter how late they are.
You can always cancel a Carnival shore excursion easily and with a full refund. If you realize the weather is going to be bad, or if you're not feeling well, you can cancel.
If anything goes wrong, you can complain directly to the staff on the ship... and that's going to carry a lot more weight than complaining to some company on an island you'll never return to.
In retrospect, however, I think I made a mistake by booking the "Freeport Power Catamaran Snorkel" excursion! While the snorkeling was really great, with more fish than I've seen on most of my previous snorkeling excursions, there was a lot of travelling and not much snorkeling. Between the bus ride and the catamaran trip... we probably had about an hour of snorkeling in an excursion lasting over three hours. Really, it was the bus ride that I kind of regret. While it was nice to hear the bus driver talk about some of the things about Grand Bahama island that I didn't know about... I really could have done without the bus ride! The better snorkeling excursions are the ones where you jump on to a boat right at the same pier where the cruise ship is docked. For example, the day before, in Key West, I noticed a different catamaran snorkeling excursion where you walked right off the cruise ship and right on to the catamaran just a short distance away. No bus ride required. That would probably have been a better choice.
In Key West, the "Catamaran Sail and Snorkel" excursion heads out to open water
The best day of the entire cruise -- and a really great shore excursion -- happened the next day... as we visited Nassau. Before I tell you about the shore excursion, though, I have to mention that we were the first ship to dock in Nassau that morning... and we were joined a little later by the Carnival Pride, which had sailed all the way down from Baltimore.
The Carnival Pride and the Carnival Conquest
docked next to each other in Nassau.
A portion of the Atlantis resort can be seen in the background on the left.
I have to tell you that I'm a big cruise ship fan. I guess you probably figured that out when I mentioned that this was my 20th cruise overall... 19th with Carnival! Anyway, I just love cruise ships. So, it was a fun game for me when our ship arrived first in Nassau, and upon spotting another cruise ship heading our way, way off in the distance... to play a game of name that cruise ship. I got a pair of binoculars out, and was able to spot the big whale-tail funnel on top of the ship... so I knew it was Carnival. That made the game a lot easier, because I know Carnival's ships pretty well. As the ship got closer, I was able to spot the unique pattern of cabin arrangements along the length of a Spirit-class ship. Some of the balcony cabins, directly above the life boats, are set back deeper than the other cabins. You can see it in the picture above. Once I spotted that, plus a unique arrangement of circular shaped windows at the front of the ship, I knew we were dealing with one of the Spirit-class ships. I also knew that the Carnival Spirit was in Australia, and the Carnival Miracle was in Alaska. So, that helped to narrow it down. I also knew that John Heald, Carnival's senior Cruise Director, was currently on the Carnival Legend... in the Mediterranean. So, long before the ship got close enough for me to read the writing on the hull, I knew with 100% certainty that it had to be the Carnival Pride out of Baltimore. For a cruise geek, it was a fun game, and I totally nailed it!
Here's a little time-lapse video I shot of the Carnival Pride as she made her way in to Nassau. Look way off in to the horizon, and you'll see it first appear as a little speck! Imagine me with my binoculars, trying to figure out who she was.
Now, let me tell you about the great shore excursion we took in Nassau. It was called the "Balmoral Island Beach Day" excursion... and it was the highlight of the cruise for us. I'll cut right to the chase and show you a picture of the little beach resort on Balmoral island. It was paradise.
I spent a LOT of time in the water there. It was warm and wonderful.
When I wasn't in the water, I was in a lounger... under one of those umbrellas.
The sand and the water and the weather were great... but you can get that on a lot of shore excursions. Three other things took this from being just another one of many enjoyable tropical shore excursions, to being an exceptionally good one:
It was a private beach on a private island, so no locals were on the beach to bug you. No beggars, no one selling sunglasses, no one offering to braid your hair. Just a nice day on the beach, enjoying the sun and the water.
Roaming waiters were ready at any time to run and get you a drink or some food from the restaurant and bar behind you. There was no need to get out of your lounger... they'll bring it to you.
No cash required! Just show them your sail-and-sign card... and any food or drink purchases will show up on your onboard account... just like ordering something from a bar on the ship.
With all that said, however, there was one little thing about this shore excursion that bugged me. Directly behind us, near the bar and restaurant, they had a DJ playing tunes over loudspeakers that could be heard along the entire beach. None of the music was really the kind of stuff that this 56 year old guy would ever choose to listen to, if given the choice. And the problem was... there was no choice. There was no where you could go on that beach to escape it. In between the music (much of which was in Spanish... which was really odd, since we were NOT in Mexico or a Spanish-speaking country) was a whole lot of DJ chatter and several loud games (musical chairs, tug-o-war, etc.) to involve the crowd. To me, it was just annoying to listen to on a beach that should have been quiet and relaxing. But it was only annoying... it did NOT ruin my day. I still had a great time!
Back to the positive things about this shore excursion... no bus ride involved! It's on a private island. To get there, you just take about a ten minute walk from the cruise ship to a little dock nearby... where you board a boat that takes you to the island. The boat ride was something like a half an hour long. I enjoyed it, because we started chatting with a real cute couple from Mississippi that had a couple of cute kids... including an especially chatty young girl (four years old perhaps) that provided a lot of entertainment during the boat ride. I liked them so much that I just followed them when they got on to the island and I sat down a few loungers away from them on the beach. People watching is always fun on a cruise, and this cute little family was a lot of fun to watch. Anyway, it was a great shore excursion, and a great day.
On the way back from Balmoral Island, I shot this photo of the Conquest docked in Nassau:
As we walked along the dock to get back onboard, I had Kellyn stop for this almost-mandatory photo-op:
Seeing that picture reminds me of another thing I really love about cruising: we spent almost the entire week wearing shorts, short-sleeved shirts, and flip-flops! Even though we live in California, that's something we just can't do at home... too much fog during the summer months!
Please pardon the last five photos... all of which were shot with my little waterproof Olympus camera, rather than my much better Digital Rebel. The waterproof camera is great in situations like snorkeling, where you just can't take the big DSLR. But for overall picture quality, you cannot beat the Digital Rebel!
Speaking of photos... it's time for a Jim Zim photo tip. Lots of people go up to the upper decks of a cruise ship to take photos at sunset... and quite often they ask their spouse to pose for a photo by the railing...
This is great, but you have to remember to put your camera in to the "force flash" mode. This forces the camera to use the flash... even though the camera, pointed at the sun, won't think it needs to. Without the flash forced on, your spouse's face will be a dark un-lit mess. But with the flash forced on, you get a beautiful photo like the one I got of Kellyn...
And after taking her sunset picture, I handed the camera over to her so that she could get one of me...
One unusual thing about cruising out of New Orleans is the time spent sailing on the Mississippi River. New Orleans does not sit directly next to the Gulf Of Mexico... it's actually quite a ways up the Mississippi River from The Gulf. A year earlier, we sailed out of Galveston on the Carnival Magic... and the port of Galveston is right there on the edge of The Gulf. A few minutes after pulling away from the Galveston cruise port, the ship was in The Gulf. But New Orleans is not that way. When a cruise ship departs New Orleans, it sails down the Mississippi River for eight hours before finally making it in to The Gulf. It's an interesting trip down the Mississippi! When the Conquest sailed away from New Orleans on the first day of our cruise, I had my camera rolling in order to be able to show you this time-lapse video:
That video doesn't actually show you the whole journey down the Mississippi, in to The Gulf. I had to stop it after sunset, when there wasn't any more light to shoot by! But I enjoyed sitting out on our balcony that night and watching the trip down the Mississippi. We finally made it in to The Gulf around midnight.
One more thing about the trip down the Mississippi...
With my main camera tied up shooting the time lapse, I had to pull out my little waterproof Olympus pocket camera to shoot this little video of something that I thought my young nephew might get a kick out of: a big crane scooping up coal out of a barge and dumping it in to a ship tied up on the banks of the Mississippi.
There were a lot of interesting sights like that as we sailed down the Mississippi!
In the time lapse video of sailing down the Mississippi, you saw the beautiful sight of the sun setting over the river. In another time lapse from a few days later, please enjoy this beautiful sunrise... as seen from our balcony at the back of the ship...
Because we've cruised with Carnival before, we had the privilege of attending the invitation-only VIFP party in the Toulouse Lautrec theatre. VIFP stands for Very Important Fun Person... and the VIFP party is Carnival's way of thanking their loyal customers who have cruised with them multiple times.The VIFP party was a perfect opportunity for me to get pictures of the senior leadership on the ship:
Captain of the Carnival Conquest, Antonino Sammartano
Cruise Director, Gary Brierley.
In our 19 previous cruises, we've seen quite a few Cruise Directors.
Gary was right up there among the best.
I have one last video to share with you. Now that you've read the entire story of our cruise on the Carnival Conquest, I think you'll especially enjoy this two-and-a-half minute video which summarizes the cruise for me:
I hope you've enjoyed all the videos and photos! I know what it's like to sit at home with a bad case of "cruise fever", wishing you were on a cruise vacation rather than being stuck back in your real life. Sometimes the only cure for cruise fever is to find a great cruise review on the Internet, with lots of pictures and videos that make you feel like you're there on a cruise. I try to do my share by documenting all the fun of our various cruises... and I hope you'll do the same when you finally make it on your cruise. Post some pictures on Cruise Critic, and some videos to YouTube. These experiences are too good to keep private... they belong out there for all the world to enjoy!
There was a time, however, when I was actually forbidden from spending time during a cruise taking photos and writing up a review! What happened was that I spent a little too much time with my computer and my camera during our first Caribbean cruise on the Carnival Glory... and not enough time paying attention to my wife! So, on our next cruise, on the Carnival Valor, she put her foot down and told me that I had better knock it off and pay more attention to her. That's why, out of all of the cruises we've taken, the only one not documented on a web page was the one on the Carnival Valor.
On our last couple of cruises, I've totally avoided the doghouse in spite of spending hours and hours shooting photos, videos, and editing HTML. The reason is that in a total stroke of luck, my wife acquired a new best friend: an Amazon Kindle! Now when we're on a cruise, she's happy to spend hours and hours reading books on her Kindle... leaving me hours and hours to work on what you're seeing here. So, thank you to Amazon.com... without you, this page might not exist!
Here's something that you might find very useful if you're doing research for an upcoming cruise on the Carnival Conquest...
Take a look at this detailed set of deck plans for the Conquest class of ships. Print them out on 11x17" paper and take them with you on your cruise. They are far more detailed than the printed deck plans they hand out on the ship. Or download this slightly more detailed .jpg format deck plans, which are specific to the Conquest. Download either version, or both, and save them to your iPad or laptop computer and bring them with you on the ship.
Another very useful document to look over is the full list of shore excursions. It not only has descriptions, lengths, and departure times for all the shore excursions that were available on this itinerary... but it also has prices!
You can also take a look at the "Fun Times" newsletter from each day of our cruise, in order to get an idea of what kinds of activities and entertainment they offer on the ship:
Fun Times - Day 1 - New Orleans
Fun Times - Day 2 - At Sea
Fun Times - Day 3 - Key West
Fun Times - Day 4 - Freeport, Grand Bahamas Island
Fun Times - Day 5 - Nassau
Fun Times - Day 6 - At Sea
Fun Times - Day 7 - At Sea
Some other things you may want to look over are the list of perks for platinum VIFP members, room service menu, the menu from the Blue Iguana cantina, and a very cool high resolution 3D cutaway diagram of the Carnival Conquest. Please note that the 3D cutaway diagram was made a few years ago, and no longer accurately portrays the area of the mid-ship pool on Lido deck... which was extensively modified when the Funship 2.0 upgrades were done.
One other fact that might be useful...
The locations of self-serve laundry and ironing rooms on the Carnival Conquest are:
Deck 1: Opposite cabin 1359
Deck 2: Opposite cabin 2367
Deck 6: Opposite cabin 6387
Deck 7: Opposite cabin 7339
Deck 8: Opposite cabin 8351
Deck 9: Opposite cabin 9270
It's a good idea to locate these cabins on the deck plans, and to make sure you do not book a cabin in that immediate vicinity. Noise and foot traffic in and out of the self-serve laundry facilities can be annoying to people in the nearby cabins.
Carnival Cruise Sounds
Have some fun with these! Listen to the Carnival Cruise theme, or play the sound of a Carnival ship horn.
If you're a true cruise junkie, download the audio files (by right-clicking, and saving) and then set your computer to play the ship horn when you get a new email, and to play the theme song when the computer boots up and/or shuts down!
Helpful Tips and Tricks
Never cruised before? Let me make your first cruise a little easier by giving you a few tips... starting with a list of things that I'd like to suggest you should bring with you on a cruise:
A multi-outlet power strip. There are only two electrical outlets at the desk in your cabin. That may not be enough if you want to charge multiple electronic devices overnight.
A 6-pack of your favorite beverage, so you don't have to pay ship prices for it. There's a refrigerator in your cabin, so you can keep your beverage cold... and your cabin steward will fill your ice bucket several times a day. Also, think about buying bottles or cans of your favorite soft drinks at the ports you visit. It's better than paying ship prices for it.
Two large plastic drink cups. (One for you, one for your roommate.) The drinking glasses that are provided in the cabins and in the Lido restaurant are frustratingly small! They don't even come close to holding the contents of one can of Coke. We always bring a couple of large plastic drinking cups along with us... to use when drinking our favorite beverage on our balcony, on the Serenity deck, or even at the Lido restaurant. Once I'm comfortable, I don't like having to get up to refill my beverage.
A watch or a travel clock. Activities start at certain times, so you will frequently want to know the current time.
A highlighter pen, to mark activities on the daily schedule that you are interested in.
A small flashlight, so you can stumble to the bathroom in the middle of the night without disturbing your roommate by turning on all the lights in the room. It's also a handy thing to have with you in the unlikely event of an emergency.
Your MP3 player, so you can listen to your favorite music while you relax in the sun on deck. I'd also recommend noise-cancelling headphones for use with your MP3 player. There have been many times when I've been trying to relax on The Serenity Deck of a Carnival cruise ship when someone nearby was talking so loudly that all serenity had vanished. Noise-cancelling headphones and your favorite music on your MP3 player will bring the serenity back. Noise-cancelling headphones are also great if you are taking an airline flight to get to and from your cruise. They block out all the engine noise while you are watching the movie or listening to music.
Some $1 and $5 bills. Very handy for tipping the people who handle your luggage on embarkation day, and also for making small purchases in port. Using American money in Caribbean ports is almost never a problem, but using a large bill to make a small purchase can be a problem.
If you're in love with your laptop computer or iPad... be sure to bring it along! There's wi-fi available throughout the ship, even in your cabin. Another good electronic gadget to bring along is a Kindle. There's lots of time on a cruise to do nothing... and having a good book or a Kindle to read is a great way to pass the time.
And I think this last one goes without saying, but I'll say it anyway: DON'T FORGET TO BRING A SWIM SUIT!
Speaking of swim suits... I'd like to teach you a good trick! When you share a cruise ship with 3000 other passengers, you have to come up with ways to avoid the crowds. I really don't think it's fun to share a Jacuzzi with a bunch of strangers, so I make an effort to get to the Jacuzzis at times when the other passengers won't be there. So, here's a trick that we've used to have the hot tubs all to ourselves:
Most people pack their swimsuit in their suitcase, which they hand over to a porter on embarkation day so that the suitcase can be delivered to their cabin. And the suitcases generally don't arrive at the cabins until late in the afternoon on embarkation day... which means that most people can't get to their swimsuits on the afternoon of embarkation. And that means that the Jacuzzis and swimming pools are fairly empty on embarkation day. It presents a perfect opportunity! What you might want to do is to wear your swimsuit under your clothes on embarkation day. When we get on board the ship, have some lunch... and then after lunch, strip down to your swim suit and enjoy the hot tubs without anyone else being in them. It works every time, and it's one of the few times during the week that you see the hot tubs without anyone else in them. By the way, before you get in the Jacuzzi, grab a towel up on the Lido deck by the main pool... so that you can dry off when you're all done.
Here's another method we use to have the hot tubs all to ourselves: 6 PM is the most popular dinner time... and by 6:15 or 6:30 the hot tubs are about as empty as they'll ever be... so that's a great time to use them. If you have "your time dining" you can eat a little later, after you're done with the hot tubs.
While we're talking about beating the crowds... remember that if you try to eat a meal at the same time everybody else does, you're going to find the buffet very crowded. So, try to adjust your schedule a little off-peak to avoid the crowds. Get up a little earlier than everybody else to avoid the breakfast crowds. Or eat lunch a little later than everybody else to avoid the lunch crowds. The buffet is really crowded at 8 AM, but usually not at 7 AM. And the lunch crowd is huge at 12:30 but not bad at all at 1:30 or 2 PM. Guy's Burger Joint doesn't even open until noon, and there's usually a pretty big line that's formed by the time they open... so wait until at least 12:15 before you go there.
A Few Minor Complaints
We had a GREAT cruise on the Carnival Conquest, so I've saved a few gripes for the end of my review so that you don't get the wrong idea. Keeping in mind how great almost everything was on this cruise, I'll just point out a few minor things I noticed about maintenance. It seemed like the Conquest staff had decided to look the other way about a few maintenance issues. Here's a couple of minor things I noticed...
Worn out and dirty loungers on the Lido deck at the aft pool.
Strangely, one level up, on the Panorama deck, they had what looked like brand new loungers.
Maybe they were working on replacing them all and just hadn't done the ones on Lido deck yet.
Areas needing some white paint... out on our balcony.
It looked like they had put primer on these spots, but forgot to follow up with white paint.
I pointed this out to our cabin steward in hopes that they would fix it before the next set of guests came aboard.
She said she had already requested that it be done, and that it would happen the day we got off the ship.
I was also really surprised to see how bad the condition of the Seaside Theatre screen was. There were a LOT of bad pixels on that screen. For me, being spoiled at home by a couple of really nice HD televisions... I don't think I could have sat out there on deck and watched the Seaside Theatre screen with as many bad pixels as it had. I should have gotten a picture of it, but I forgot.
There is one other negative thing I have to point out about the Carnival Conquest... the fact that it's one of only two ships in the entire Carnival fleet that does not have a Serenity retreat. Even the oldest ships in the fleet, the Fantasy-class vessels, have Serenity areas! How they managed to never get around to it on the Carnival Conquest is a mystery to me. The only other ship in the same situation is the Carnival Triumph... no Serenity retreat there either! I bet that the very next time these two ships go in to dry dock, this will be rectified. However, as far as I know, there is no dry dock currently scheduled for the Carnival Conquest (or the Triumph, for that matter) in 2013 or 2014.
In all fairness, we had a great cruise and I have to stress that there were far more positives than negatives.
The bottom line: it was a pretty sweet cruise!
Our pre-cruise visit to New Orleans
Prior to the cruise, we spent two nights at the Drury Inn and Suites in New Orleans. Here's the gorgeous view of downtown New Orleans from their roof...
The day before the cruise, we had the entire day to explore New Orleans. We visited the French Quarter, the Riverwalk, the Aquarium, and the IMAX theatre. If you'd like to see pictures from that day, click here.
About The Camera Used To Take These Photos
Almost all of the photos on this page were taken with my Canon Digital Rebel T5i. It's a brand new camera... the latest and greatest in Canon's series of Digital Rebels. You can read more about this camera on my page about the T5i.
The Cruise Ships We've Been On
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