Friday, January 25, 2013

Carnival Conquest Jan 2013

Carnival Conquest cruise

1/13/13 to 1/20/13
Ports of Call: Montego Bay, Grand Cayman Islands, and Cozumel, Mexico

This was a reunion cruise. Patti and I were cruising with my brother Ron and his wife Nang, My Uncle John and Mary, Cousin Mark and wife Debi, Cousin Tami and husband Jeremy, John’s son Matthew and Matthew's friends John and Steven.

Day 1- Embarkation Day

Time to get our cruise on. Patti and I left the house at 5:15 am. Thanks to Jason for the ride. We flew Delta to Atlanta and then connected for our leg to New Orleans. We landed in New Orleans about 11:15 am local. Took a taxi to the Erato street cruise terminal. The fare- Thirty three dollars fare and about a 25 minute drive.

We got to the terminal at the same time as the rest of the family. This was coincidental and not planned, but we were all in line together. We left our baggage with the porters to be delivered later to our cabin. It took about 45 minutes to process our way onboard. The bags did not receive a physical check, they were only x-rayed. They did shake water. We heard that after shaking there is a time difference on how fast the bubbles in the water settles vs. something like vodka or gin.

I took exactly 2 steps on to the ship and was approached by a server holding a tray with the drink of the day- umbrellas included. “Why, yes I’ll take two please.” We went and checked out our room- 8308. A Cat 8D balcony room on Veranda deck midship. We dropped off our carry on bag and a little backpack provided by Ron. It contained a bottle of Canadian Club whiskey expertly rebottled to look like a ‘wine’ bottle by John’s son Patrick.

Patti and I got some lunch at Guy’s Burgers on Lido deck. Outstanding Burgers!!- they live up to all the hype. We went up to deck 10 and all the family ended up migrating there. Time for the dreaded muster drill (about 3:30 pm, still prior to sail away). Our feet were getting tired. Yeah! it is no longer a requirement to take your life jacket to the drill. [tip: don't rush to be first. You will be buried in the back as your fellow guests line up. I prefer to lolly gag a little, still on time, but closer to some open air. In the event of an actual emergency... no lolly gagging] After the muster drill Patti and I went to Panorama deck to watch sail away down the Mississippi River. After about 5 minutes the light bulb went off, “Hey why not sit with a drink on our balcony.” It was a very different departure from past cruises- being on a river and not the ocean.

Six pm time for dinner. For us, this was a change from our past cruises- first night dining is now at your assigned table, not open dining. I always wondered why it was not this way in the past. I do like the way they have expanded the menus to include ‘every day’ choices and comfort food selections as well as the daily options. The highlight of the first meal was of course the crème brulee for desert.

Our head waiter was from Thailand and supervised 2 others. They did a great job taking care of us the entire cruise.

It’s been a long travel day. Went back to the room to unpack and then sleep.

Day 2- Sea Day

An amazing start to the day. We were up early and sat on the balcony drinking coffee and watching the sun come up over the ocean. We went to the buffet on Lido for breakfast. Typical fare- plenty of choices.

On to the Lido pool area for some sun. We took our smuggled on Canadian club in our pool bag aka ‘portable bar.’ We booked the cruise under a guaranteed price program. When ever I saw a price drop (I checked weekly) I claimed some credit. I ended up with $153 of on board credit from price drops plus another $50 from a Carnival mastercard promotion I timed right. This gave us $203 total OBC. It was kind of like drinking for free for 3 days. We spent some time in the hot tub. They were actually 'hot'.

We tried the Blue Iguana Cantina tacos for lunch. They sucked. I love Mexican food and have had it in the US and in Mexico. I have ate authentic real Mexican as well as the US version and like most all- but the cantina food sucked IMHO. Day one the lines were long for the cantina. As the week progressed they grew much, much shorter. We ended up going to the buffet for lunch. We ran into John and Mary at the buffet and swapped stories from our childhood. Back to the room for a pre-dinner nap.

Tonight is formal night number one, or 'Double Lobster night' as I prefer to call it. A table-side magician stopped by the table. He made Mary’s wedding ring disappear. He also made it reappear. Good thing-I think Mary could have taken him down. The food was very good. Two lobsters and some cherries jubilee later we headed off for a formal pic of the ten of us. Patti wore a custom made black dress she ordered from China and I wore a white dinner jacket with a teal bow tie and matching cummerbund.

After dinner the whole group went to the theater for the show called “The Brits”. A montage of British pop during the 60’s and 70’s. I was not impressed. It was a blend of singing and dancing done against a cartoon animated electronic background. Maybe I am old school but I miss the live band. Patti and I went back to the room to change out of our formal wear and headed back out… the party animals that we are. We ended up in the “Blues” piano bar. The piano player was not playing blues (yes, I know it's only the name), but he was playing really good 'old' songs from the 70’s and 80’s. Patti and I were having a good time. John’s son Matthew and his friends saw us and asked us to sit with them. So we fifty something’s were hanging out with the twenty something’s. They are good kids- bright, polite and we had fun hanging out with them. They knew the words to all the old songs too. They even taught Patti and I a new version of the song Alice. Who is Alice? Actually… “Who the F*** is Alice?” You Tube it. That song became a running joke between us and the boys for the rest of the cruise.

Finally at about 1 am we called it a night. ‘We’ being Patti and I. They boys were still going strong.

Day 3- Sea Day

We were still not sleeping in. Up at 7:30 am for the coffee routine on the balcony. Today we fixed a few plates from the buffet and ate on our balcony. I never get tired of the view. We checked the balance on the sail and sign card. Still have a little on board credit to drink through before we start to accrue a balance.

Spent a relaxing morning reading the kindle on the balcony. Weather today- blue skies temps probably in the mid to upper 70s. Loaded up the pool bag/mini bar and headed to Lido aft. This was a nice area since it was mostly enclosed and a bit warmer than mid deck Lido. It was also close to the Pirate Pizza station. Good pizza. We played cards with family and enjoyed a few drinks and stories.

A group of young women and came up to Ron and wanted their picture taken with him. He got a big smile on his face enjoying the lime light. Afterwards we asked. “Why Ron?” They hesitated and responded, “We are in a scavenger hunt game and we needed our picture taken with someone having a bad fashion day.” I guess Ron’s Hawaiian shirt and shorts were tropically mismatched. Hey, it's vacation, who cares… but we did have fun teasing Ron about it.

Went to the Lido buffet for lunch then to the photo area to review pics. Back to the room to get ready for a past cruiser party. It has been changed so now  its not actually for all past cruisers. Now it is for Gold and above. We had free drinks and horderves in the theater. They had a Mardi Gras theme to the party.  It was held in the theater and they ran some video. It was more of a commercial for Carnival than anything else. We had always skipped these in the past so now we have at least we attended one.

We had dinner with the family in the Monet dining room and then back to the room. We watched a little TV and relaxed.

Day 4- Montego Bay, Jamaica

We had room service for breakfast. Cereal, fruit, rolls. We got most of what we asked for and got it at the requested time. Other family members said they had issues getting their room service on time.

Debarkation started at 9:00 am and we got off the ship fairly quickly even at that time. Our whole group had decided to get a day pass to the Montego Bay Sandals resort. Mary and John’s son Patrick had done this last year. It was a very good idea. We got a van/taxi at the terminal and took the 15 minute ride to the resort (8 dollars per person). The resort pass was $85 a person all inclusive including the food and drinks. We had the run of the resort including water activities. There was knee boarding, sailing, and some of us signed up for a boat snorkel trip out to the reef (no extra charge). When you factor in all that we got I think it was a good value.

Jeremy and I sat in on a Jamaican cooking class and learned how to make shrimp curry from Chef Kevin, a key ingrediant being Appleton rum.  Patti bought a wooden turtle from a vendor on the beach. This makes 2 turtles now from Jamaica.

The resort was excellent for a day pass. I would not book it for a vacation though because it literally sits right beside the airport. Noisy jets were taking off all day. We had an area in the middle of the resort for our family compound. I am not sure how I would feel if I were a guest of the resort and knew cruisers had invaded, but the resort is big and I don’t think the ten of us affected things at all.

We had made arrangements for our van driver to pick us up at 4 pm. We had tipped well that morning and he was back on time (early actually) for the trip back to the ship. Due to traffic he cut through down. Schools were just getting out and the town was very busy.

Once back on the boat we sat on our balcony for a bit then fixed a few plates from the buffet for dinner and ate in our room that night.

Day 5- Grand Cayman Island

The ship pulled into port  about 6:30 am. We were up drinking coffee on the balcony watching the tenders circling getting ready . This was the only port call where we were not at a pier and had to be tendered ashore. The tender boats were local contracts and they looked like they could all carry about 150-250 passengers each trip. It looked much more efficient and comfortable than in the past- Patti and I had always tendered using the ship's lifeboats.

Patti and I decided  to stay on the ship for this port. On most cruises we opt for one ship vs. port day. We had been to the Caymans on a prior cruise and thought this would be a good day to enjoy a ship day with less people. We ate breakfast in the buffet. Omelet tip- there are omelet stations along the sides of the buffet, not just in the food line. With a mostly empty ship we had no problem getting an ocean window table for breakfast.

Went back to the room to change for some hot tubbing on Lido aft. We found a shady spot and read our Kindles while having a couple of cokes.  Plain cokes... nothing added. Yeah, sad I know, but then we put the sail and sign card to work for a few stronger drinks. Ran into Jeremy. He and Ron had done a dive that morning and he was already back on board. Jeremy took off for a Guy’s Burger. I went up a deck to 10 and got fried fish and fried oysters from the fish and chips place. It was very good.

The ship started to get busier around 1 pm as guests returned to the ship. Back to the room for a nap and reading on our balcony.

Tonight was formal night number two. Patti wore a silver sparkly cocktail dress and I had a silver bow tie and cummerbund for my dinner jacket. After dinner we went to karaoke at Punch Liners. There were a few good singers. The key word here being ‘few’. One guy was so bad singing “Staying alive" he was literally sending people out the door.

The family party moved to the dance club. The music was about 30 years younger than our group but the DJ did play a few oldies for us. Tami and Jeremy were out on the floor and Tami got me to go out once with them; violating one of my primary life rules: "Never sing, never dance in public no matter how many drinks I have had". What the hell, other than family, none of those people will ever see me again. More importantly, no pictures of me dancing have shown up on Facebook.

Patti and Tami got ‘Disco ball’ drink cups. Party girls! I did take a pic of Jeremy holding two “Disco balls” low in his lap. That pic did end up on Facebook. The wild party animals that we are, we then moved to the Atrium bar. They had a live band doing songs from the 70’s. We only got there in time for their last 40 minutes. I must say Jeremy and I rocked it doing our version of John Travolta’s disco walk to “Staying Alive” (by the band, not the karaoke guy).  I know, I violated my life rule twice in one night. Matt’s friend John was giving Patti swing dance lessons. A couple of ladies were walking by and wanted to know where to sign up.

The band ended at midnight… disco balls in hand we ‘old’ people trudged off to our staterooms. The boys partied on till the wee hours.

Day 6- Cozumel, Mexico

It was a rainy night last night and the ship had been rocking. It all stopped about the time we woke up at 7:30. It was to wet to sit on the balcony. Patti and I had breakfast at the buffet then stopped by the room to get our bag with our day stuff. Headed off the ship about 9:10 am. It had stopped raining and the sun was out as we left the ship. It was still a bit breezy and the water was choppy. Many water excursions were canceled.

Our “Salsa and Salsa” excursion was still on. Tami and Jeremy were doing this one with us. We met with our tour guide on the pier then took a van to the Hotel Cozumel Resort (not impressed with the resort). The Salsa and Salsa event is part cooking, part dancing. It was fun and our chefs were entertaining. Not only did we make margaritas, salsa, and guacamole we ate and drank them as well. The Margaritas from the instructor table were high octane and generously shared. Chef hats aprons added to the ambiance and fun. The cooking lesson was followed by some salsa dancing. Dance directions-- bar side…sea side… ship side… tree side. The instructors were confident that after all the margaritas we wouldn’t know our left from our right. A fun way to spend a few hours. We had the option to stay and use the beach/pool there, but it was windy so we all headed back to the ship.

Back to the ship for lunch- Guy’s Burger for Patti and fish and chips for me. Patti took a nap and I read my Kindle and updated my journal on the balcony. Today Ron, Nang, Mark and Debi did a Dune Buggy excursion. John and Mary visited a National park. We had dinner in the main dining room than back to the stateroom. We were not party animals this night.

Day 7- Sea Day

Our last full day. Took time for some extra coffee on the balcony. I tried to ‘burn’ the view into my brain. We are heading north back to New Orleans. Breakfast on Lido. Patti liked the waffles. We went to the photo galley and made our final decisions on our formal pics.

We went back to the room and found our debarkation bag tags on the bed and the TV was on showing a video loop- “How to get off the ship”. I think they are trying to get rid of us. Damn them. Did a little pre-packing.

Tonight was our last dinner with the family in the dining room (baked Alaska for desert. We then headed back to the room to finish packing. The bags had to be in the hall before 11:00 pm.

I pulled the curtains back and looked out around 11:00 pm. I could see oil platforms. We must be getting close to the mouth of the Mississippi.

Day 8- Debarkation

6:30 am. We woke up at the pier in New Orleans. It was very foggy across to the south side. We had our last coffee on the balcony. Since our bags were picked up the night before all we had left to do was shower, dress and add a few items to our carry on bag. We had to be out of the room by 8:30 am so they could get it ready for the next cruise. The bastards. As we were leaving for breakfast we ran into half the family. They were heading down to the Monet dining room for a sit down breakfast. We ran into the rest of the family at the dining room so we all got to have our last breakfast together.

The dining room food was about the same as the buffet the main differences was  the addition of corn beef hash and that the toast was still warm. I liked the hash. After three attempts and much whining I finally got it. A last round of hugs and we went separate ways. Patti and I ended up waiting with Tami and Jeremy till their zone number was called. Patti and I were Zone 8 and were called about 8:30 am.

Reluctantly we worked our way off the ship. I tried a death grip on the door but it did not work. They have a crew member stationed there to pry your fingers off the gangway door. Customs consisted of a friendly guy looking at the form and waiving us through. Patti found our bags in the baggage area and we headed outside for a taxi. Thirty three dollars later we were back at the airport. We were flying US Airways- not a fan. At first they said we had to check our carry on. I think my grumpiness made them change their mind.

We had about a one hour forty five minute flight to Charlotte, NC. Since we had a two hour layover we got some take out from the Chili’s restaurant in the main concourse and took it to our gate. Due to a security check and a maintenance issue we were thirty minutes late taking off.

We landed in Dayton at about 7:45 pm. Thanks to Jamie for a pick up at the Airport.

Two bags made it ok. Our garment bag looked like it got shredded by an IED in Afghanistan. Not happy. I lost a new white Tux jacket and shirt. Patti lost a custom ordered formal dress.  Claim work now in progress. {Edit:  Claim was paid quickly and for more than I requested}


A great vacation! Seeing family was the highlight of the vacation, it truly was. The tropical weather and the fun stuff we did was a bonus.

Patti thought it would be interesting to list what the major news stores were during our cruise:
1. Lance Armstrong admits to blood doping.
2. Intense gun control lobbing (following the tragic school shooting in Newtown, CT.
3. Obama’s pending inauguration.

Hits and misses: (My opinions)
Guy’s Burgers
Fish and Chips
Main Dining room (food and service)
Blues Piano bar
Hot tubs were nice and hot, the pools too cold. Not Carnivals fault we cruised in Jan.
Ship staff was attentive and hard working.
Thirsty Frog Red beer

Ok/Average/as expected:
Pirate Pizza
Room service
Cabin steward

Blue Iguana Cantina food (The lines there were long the first day, much shorter as the week went on.)
Brits show (cartoon video background, no live band)

A great cruise, we would leave again this weekend.

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