One of Carnival Conquest's greatest strengths is the sheer variety of dining options. Conquest hastwo double-tiered rooms (Monet and Renoir) to handle formal dinner duty. Of the two, Monet, which lies aft and has windows with views on three sides, is the more appealing (especially during daytime). Renoir, right off the atrium, is more centrally located. There are two options for dinner. Passengers can either opt for set seating (choices are 6 or 8:15 p.m.) or go with a flexible option (Carnival's "Your Time Dining"). With the flexible choice, passengers can have dinner in the main dining room anytime they like between 5:45 and 9:30 p.m. (times may vary). Dining assignments -- which you select before the cruise -- are made on a first come, first served basis, so if you have your heart set on one or the other, consider booking earlier rather than later.
Breakfast and lunch are open seating and are held in the Monet dining room.
Nightly rotating menus feature salads, appetizers and chilled soups, with entrees consisting of pasta, meat, fish and vegetarian options. Choices that are lower in fat, cholesterol and sodium are denoted with little hearts (pan-seared fish, lighter sauces). The "Didja Ever" option, which changes nightly, is aimed at first-timer culinary experience (ahi tuna, escargot). Desserts include ice cream, pies and Carnival's infamous chocolate melting cake. For the finicky eaters, always-available options include flat iron steak, fried chicken and a vegetarian Indian plate. No meal in the main dining room would be complete without Carnival's signature singing and dancing waiters, who clap and hop around to digitized music, sometimes pulling passengers into the show.
Sit-down breakfast and lunch is also served in one of the dining rooms. The menu items -- omelets, cereals and breads for breakfast, and sandwiches, burgers and salads for lunch -- are not much different than the buffet offerings, but they're served in a more structure setting. Quality is commensurate -- it's the service element that different.
The fee-free Punchliner Comedy Brunch, a sea day exclusive added in October 2012, features five-minute teasers from that evening's comedians every hour on the hour from 9 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. There's also a special menu inspired by Carnival's "Curator of Comedy," George Lopez, and a Bloody Mary bar ($7.75 to $8.75). Dishes include huevos y carne, a Mexican-style steak-and-eggs dish, and a breakfast burrito.
Even more choices come in beyond the dining room, and you'd need at least a week to try them all out. There are a myriad of lunchtime options on the pool deck, several of which were added in October 2012. Guy's Burger Joint, designed by the spiky haired TV food personality, serves burgers during the day. The burgers are unapologetic monuments to excess: 80-20 beef patties topped with American cheese and cheese whiz on buttered buns. Add bacon, mayo and oil-soaked onions or mushrooms, and you have a hangover cure or a heart attack-inducer. Nearby is the BlueIguana Cantina, which offers wrapped-to-order burritos and topped-to-order tacos (for breakfast and lunch). A condiments bar features more than 20 salsas and hot sauces, plus watermelon.
The lido buffet is called Restaurant Cezanne. There are numerous coffee, iced tea and lemonade stations as well as self-serve ice cream and frozen yogurt machines. Cezanne is two decks high and on our trip there were plenty of stations and empty tables even during peak times. There's also a grill station with everything from hamburgers to garden burgers (and fabulous fries) and an Asian station, where the offerings changed daily. One "hidden" treasure was Sur Mer, a seafood station, tucked away on the otherwise off-the-beaten-track second tier of Restaurant Cezanne. While fried seafood like fish and chips and calamari fritters are staples (the oysters are delicious; also try the housemade potato chips), there are also much lighter seafood options; the bouillabaisse was divine as was the cerviche and the raw tuna. Rounding out the pool deck options is a 24-hour pizza station (offering a variety of types and styles) and a deli.
Evenings, most of the grill stations close down (save for the deli and the pizza stand) but the Restaurant Cezanne transforms itself into a casual dinner eatery called Seaview Bistro.
The Taste Bar, located on the Promenade (an oft-trafficked route to the main dining rooms) offers a nightly rotating menu culled from Carnival's various signature dining venues. The small plates -- typically two per night -- don't incur an extra charge, but the accompanying (and also rotating) cocktails are an attractive $5.
Conquest features one for-fee alternative restaurant, The Point Steakhouse, which charges $35 per person. In return, passengers get a Carnival take on Ruth's Chris -- with solid service and delicious food; a sommelier manages an intriguing and Point-exclusive wine list with great by-the-glass selections as well as bottles. The menu is simple but awesome, from a New England crab cake to surf 'n' turf (main lobster and filet). Other choices include lamb chops, baked onion soup and an 18-ounce ribeye. Sides like mash potatoes, creamed spinach and steamed broccoli are served family style.
Also available on all of Carnival's ships is The Chef's Table dining experience, which affords a dozen passengers a multicourse dinner with a master chef, a private cocktail reception and a tour of the galley and its operations. This dining option usually takes place in a nontraditional venue, such as the galley or library, and it can be booked onboard at the information desk for a per-person cost of $75.
A couple of miscellaneous notes: On the Promenade Deck, all day and into late evening, is Cafe Patisserie, which serves specialty coffees and sweets ranging from banana splits to chocolate covered strawberries (there's a charge). At night, a complimentary Japanese sushi bar opens on the promenade deck. The ship offers 24-hour room service, ranging from basic continental-style breakfast fare to a variety of sandwiches and desserts. All dining room menus and stations feature at least one vegetarian entree per menu. It is recommended that passengers tip a buck or two for room service.
With a handful of variations, Carnival sticks with the four basic cabin categories -- inside, oceanview, balcony and suite. For all categories, the standard Carnival color scheme of pink, light orange and cream prevails. Hair dryers are available in each cabin.
Inside, oceanview and balcony cabins range from 185 - 260 square feet (including balconies, which range from 35 to 75 square feet). Accommodations feature two twin beds that can be converted into a queen, interactive TV's, mini-fridges, safe and bathrobes. Storage space is adequate; there are three full-length closets -- one has fold down shelves -- plus a number of drawers and cabinet spaces.
The shower-only bathrooms in standard accommodations are comfortable enough, and certainly functional. Showers are outfitted with shampoo and shower gel dispensers. Carnival also features its "legendary" amenity basket in its bathrooms, filled with disposable razors, deodorant, breath mints, toothpaste, soap and the like. (Choices will vary. These are not refilled through the course of the cruise.)
Verandahs in the balcony cabins are outfitted with wood-colored plastic furniture (table, straight chair, adjustable chair) and have a privacy guard that extends just over the railing on each side.
Those in need of a little extra leg room may want to opt for a suite -- but at just 340 square feet (including balcony), the term "mini-suite" is probably more accurate. There are also 10 penthouse suites (430 square feet including balcony) with sitting areas, walk-in closets and whirlpool baths.
One note: Sounds travel quite easily through cabin doors so light sleepers may want to position themselves as far away as possible from elevator banks. And a number of passengers on Deck 8, under the main pool area, complained that late-night and early-morning scrapings of chairs and tables overhead was very disturbing.
Conquest's offerings, from the Vegas-style revues in Toulouse-Lautrec theater (homages to Latin music, Mo-town and the British Invasion) to the classical pianist in the lobby's "Artist Bar," fit the "something for everyone" motto. It seems as if there's always something happening -- whether it's a country musician outside the casino to the Caribbean band on pool deck to big band sounds in the Degas lounge.
Activities tend toward the usual: art auctions, karaoke, "game show mania," ballroom dancing, comedians, bingo, bingo and more bingo. The cruise director offered daily talks on sea days, and he was so funny he even managed to make "sponsored shopping" entertaining.
The show lounge -- named after Moulin Rouge's Toulouse Lautrec -- is wildly whimsical. Encompassing three decks, Toulouse-Lautrec is the main performing venue and is basically busy -- literally and figuratively -- most times of the day and night. The decor is very bodaciously red and gold and inspired by the artist's sketchings from cabarets, brothels, theaters and the circus in Paris' bohemian Montmartre. Flanking the stage are repros of Moulin Rouge's famous windmills. One new evening offering (as of December 2012) is "Hasbro, the Game Show," an interactive event inspired by the TV show "Family Game Night." Think long-popular board games transformed into a 30-minute stage show with passenger participation.
That's the easy-to-find stuff. Off-the-beaten-track venues include one of our favorites, Alfred's. Tucked away on Deck 4, under the disco, it's a great place in the afternoon (where tea is served), and again before dinner for listening (and perhaps dancing) to jazz, torch songs and classical fare. The only negative there is the ventilation in this low-ceilinged room; cigar smoking is permitted and the smell never really goes away. Another lovely, peaceful and never crowded bar venue was at the Point Steakhouse. There's no surcharge just to have a drink at the bar, and it has a better than usual wine and malt scotch selection.
A handful of new bars were added in October 2012. Alchemy Bar is a vintage-themed cocktail "pharmacy" with a passenger participation element. Choose a drink from one of the light-up menus, or create your own by writing down what you'd like on one of the bar's "prescription pads." The new EA Sports Bar, with its video games, 16 46-inch flat-screen TV's and beer, is a serious at-sea man cave.
The popular Seaside Theater is found on Conquest's pool deck. Similar to that developed by Princess Cruises, the 270-square-ft. screen towers over the main pool and shows everything from sporting events to music videos to films. Nearby are the BlueIguana Tequila Bar and the RedFrog Rum Bar, which are designed similarly but focus on drinks with the respective liquors found in their names. Both venues, which were added in October 2012, are open day and night.
This is a ship that definitely gets revved-up as the night wears on. Highlights include midnight buffets (one of the few cruise lines to still offer them), R-rated comedy acts in the George Lopez branded comedy club, and frenetic dancing at Henri's disco.
The Polynesian world of post-Impressionist Paul Gauguin is re-created in the Tahiti Casino. Beams and columns of bamboo and wood, and cast thatch ceiling panels impart the feeling of a Tahitian village with colorful jungle-motif fabrics and rich wood tones add to the ambience.
Gauguin's Bar, Carnival Conquest's sports bar, carries on the Tahitian theme from the adjacent casino, but incorporates more wall murals of Gauguin's paintings. Henri's takes its theme from the exotic jungle paintings of Henri Rousseau. Muted reds, golds and greens dominate the fabrics and window treatments, while the carpet is a colorful, cartoon-like pattern of animals peeking from behind bright green leaves of grass.
|Fitness and Recreation|
For a ship this contemporary -- and this large -- the spa and fitness facility is a conundrum. It has all the atmosphere of a 1970's YMCA: low ceilings and thinner-than-tissue walls between treatment rooms. New here is a stand-alone boutique selling all manner of Steiner beauty and fitness products.
Oddly enough, the fitness facility is accessible only via mens and womens locker rooms so you must wind your way through narrow corridors, then a locker room filled with people, then another narrow corridor, to come out into the fitness part of the operation. There seemed at most times to be plenty of weight machines, a whole area devoted to spin cycling (extra fee for classes), and a workout area for aerobics and yoga. Men and women share access to the in-spa whirlpool -- which is actually kind of neat, set into a glassed-in nook that overlooks the workout room with a rock wall that's supposed to have a waterfall (it was broken on our cruise). There aretwo whirlpools -- one's huge and one's average in size.
Men and women have their own dedicated sauna and steam rooms. A notable inclusion is a couples' massage room, the first in the Carnival fleet.
The Steiner-operated spa offers the usual treatments. Interesting note: At this facility there is a day-of-embarkation special that results in a 15 percent discount if you book your treatment for the cruise's first night. Also, beware: There were quite long lines of people waiting to make appointments the first two days. Our advice is to head to the spa as soon as possible after embarkation and make your choices then.
As with most Steiner spas, some fitness classes are free of charge while others, notably yoga and spin classes, have a $12 fee attached.
The pool deck is pretty expansive and it seems as if there's room for everyone. Multi-tiered, there was some chair-saving but not too much; partly because you have to sign out your towels and are responsible for returning them or are charged $22, people weren't too cavalier about leaving them around. There are two pools and three larger-than-usual whirlpools.
Just beyond the Cezanne Restaurant is the ship's covered pool, plus another two expansive whirlpools.
Above, there's a jogging track, a half-sized basketball court and a volleyball net. There's also a golf center where an onboard pro will help analyze your swing and sets up golf outings to island courses when in port.
Navigating the public areas of Carnival Conquest is pretty straightforward. Deck 5 is a central place to meet and greet hosting, most of the main attractions such as the casino, Montmartre (the kids' disco), Henri's (the disco), an arcade and Latour (the wine bar). At the end is a cluster of nightclubs, including Blues, with Carnival's trademark sing-along piano bar; Degas, a second show-room; and Vincent's. Gauguin's Bar, right off the casino, is somewhat confusing; it's exotically decorated in the style of the artist's Tahiti period ... but it's easy to be distracted by the numerous television screens overhead blaring sports highlights.
The Promenade Deck is also home to the shops, all selling usual cruise fare from Carnival insignia-wear to a pretty huge selection of duty-free booze, perfume and jewelry. Cherry on Top, done up in candy-cane red and white, was added in October 2012. It sells all manner of sweets by the quarter pound in the "scoop it from a plastic box" fashion. (Individual boxes of Sweet Tarts, giant lollies and chocolate candy are on offer, too.) Tux rentals and flowers for purchase are also available there.
The atrium is beautiful. Dominated by the Artists' Lobby, there's a gorgeous hand-painted mural with numerous scenes from Impressionist masterpieces. Illuminated Murano glass pieces add color and whimsy. The Atelier Atrium spans 10 decks, topped with a huge skylight.
Even more of a hideaway (took three efforts to find it) is the ship's 24-hour Internet cafe. (There's also bow-to-stern Wi-fi.) There are six terminals. Pay-as-you go Internet is $0.75 a minute, but you can bring the cost down to $0.30 if you buy 1,000 minutes ($300). There is a $3.95 activation fee the first time you log on.
Other miscellany includes self-service launderettes. It's $3 for a wash, $2.75 for a dry and $1.50 for detergent. On Deck 4 there's the Gallery, which doubles as a meeting room and wedding venue. One underused room is the Salon, the highlight of which is a fireplace (fake of course). The photo gallery is huge and takes up much of the space around the atrium on Deck 4. There's a library but it's tiny and has only four bookcases -- hardly enough to serve a ship that carries more than 3,000 passengers, so plan to travel with your own reading material.
Conquest caters to a broad crisscross of (mostly) middle America; according to Carnival, 30 percent of its passengers are under 35, 40 percent are between the ages of 35 and 55, and 30 percent are over 55.
Four- and five-night cruises feature one "cruise elegant" evening. Many men opt for jackets and ties, and some pull out the penguin suit. Women typically wear cocktail dresses, dressy blouses, etc. Resort casual attire is suggested for the rest of the evenings.
Carnival recommends $11.50 per person, per day. The guidelines allocate $5.80 to dining room services, $3.70 to cabin services and $2 per day for alternative services, which include kitchen, entertainment, guest services and other hotel staff members. The amount is automatically added to your shipboard account, but can be adjusted in either direction at the guest services desk. A 15 percent gratuity is automatically added to bar bills. Tipping for room service at delivery is expected (and appreciated) by the service staff.
The 2,974-passenger Carnival Conquest debuted in 2002 as the first ship in Carnival's Conquest-class series, which also includes Carnival Glory, Valor, Freedom and Liberty. Like its younger sisters, Conquest is every bit a "city at sea." Mostly that's a plus because the space means there are tons of options, including a dedicated venue for cruisers ages 12 - 14, more than a dozen bars and the Seaside Theatre, a 270-square-foot LED screen overlooking the main pool area. An October 2012 refurbishment, part of the line's half-billion dollar Fun Ship 2.0 initiative, added even more new features. These include a quartet of theme bars, burger and burrito joints, and a comedy club rebranded with the help of George Lopez.
For a ship with so many people, there are invariably a few lines, though if you plan to embark during peak times, the wait can reach 1.25 hours (later arrivals -- after 3 p.m. -- will speed through the boarding process). The Promenade Deck gets a little clogged during formal night as passengers saunter down the main thoroughfare en route to the dining room. Otherwise, you'd never know there were 3,000-plus other travelers sharing the ship.
Triumph is decorated in an Impressionist theme -- but don't let that most gracious of art eras confuse you into thinking Carnival's going PBS. Think instead of elegant Impressionism crossed with Paris' psychedelic Moulin Rouge -- lots of crazy colors and patterns and shapes -- with some nutty post-Impressionism thrown in for good measure. Many of the public rooms are named for art masters such as Van Gogh, Degas, Renoir and Manet. The murals copying the works of the art masters are wonderfully fun and scattered all over the ship, everywhere from elevator ceilings to the atrium.
The onboard atmosphere, with its large-ship feeling, lots of playful passengers in all age groups and excellent entertainment, really aims to celebrate playtime -- for adults as well as kids.
New for the Conquest class is an expanded game room and teen area on Deck 12. Called Club 02 and decorated to resemble the back alleys of the infamous Montmartre district of 19th-century Paris, the room sports brick walls with peeling stucco decorated with rock concert posters and graffiti, building facades and wood fences. The facilities for teens include a dance floor, video wall, lounge, soft-drink bar and state-of-the-art video games.
The 12- to 14-year-old "tween" set also have their own dedicated space (Deck 8), with video games, a touch-screen jukebox and plasma TV's.Camp Carnival continues to evolve and Conquest offers the line's EduCruise program. There are science and geography educational components that focus on the cultures of the islands the ship visits.
Camp Carnival has daily activities for several age groups; 2- to 5-year-olds can make magnets, build sundaes and create sand art pictures. Particular afternoons during the itinerary are devoted to "family fun" and encourage parental involvement. Same goes for the 6- to 8-year-old group, which participates in similar activities geared to their particular demographic (for instance, there's even a "homework help" activity); 9- to 12-year-olds have their own club, group dinners, talent shows and family events.
This facility, beyond its multiplex of plasma-screen TV's, computer center and PlayStation 2 area, also has an outdoor wading pool and jungle gym. There is, of course, the traditional Carnival water slide.
Scheduled activities generally run until 10 p.m., after which Night Owl parties -- late-night group baby-sitting with a more fun name -- are available for $6.75 per hour, per kid (plus 15 percent gratuity per child). There are also the occasional theme parties (Beach, Mardi Gras), which run from 10 p.m. to midnight and cost $13 per child (plus 15 percent gratuity).
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