Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Carnival Conquest Review Part 2

This part of the review will cover my overall impression of the ship as well as the food and dining venues.

The Ship:

The Conquest was the first one built in the “Conquest Class” of ships back in 2002 and therefore shows some of its age.  The Degas Lounge had some fairly outdated light fixtures.  The bathroom fixtures in our bathtub/shower were very outdated compared to what is being installed in newer ships today. There were a few stains in some carpeted areas which the staff was trying to get out during our cruise.  The one quirky area that I found was where the internet cafe was located.  You had to go down to deck 4 and then walk around and through one of the lounges just to find it.  Most internet cafes on other ships are located more centrally with some of the other public areas such as the library, coffee cafe etc.

The promenade on deck 5 is the main entertainment area on the ship.  The disco, the casino, the wine bar, one of the teen lounges, the sushi and coffee venues, the gift shops are all found along the promenade or forward on this deck.  If you wanted loud music and dancing, this was the deck for you.  There was either recorded music blaring or a live band playing each day and night.  It was also the area where so many of the photographers were perched trying to get you to take a picture with one of the hundreds of backdrops that we saw.  I will also come back to that also in a later post.

The pool and deck areas seemed to have an abundance of deck chairs and space.  We mainly found deck chairs early on in the day near the main pool area on the Lido deck.  This was also the area that featured the large TV screen and waterslide and 3 hot tubs (although I heard that only one of the hot tubs was actually heated).  On sea days, you needed to get out on the Lido deck no later than 10am if you wanted to get deck chairs near some of the action, which we did.

Overall, the ship is very nice and the public areas (not including the dining) seemed designed well for traffic flow with the photo area being the exception to that.  The photo area where you could go view some of the pictures you had taken was very congested at certain times and made it almost impossible to get around.  The ship’s staff was always out and about cleaning and sprucing which is always something nice to see.

The ship itself gets a B grade.

The Dining: we are getting to the important stuff.  This is where my perspective comes into play a lot.  I am going to compare the dining areas and the staff to what I have experienced on 5 previous cruises with 4 other cruise lines. 

First, the buffet areas were not designed well for the size of the ship.  Unlike Royal Caribbean’s Windjammer Cafe which has “food islands” or stations, the Cezanne Restaurant was designed more “cafeteria style.”  You get in line to get a plate and tray and then you wait with everyone else and you SLOWLY make your way through the food options, even if what you really want is more at the end of the buffet line.  Lines, during the busier parts of the morning and afternoon, were very long.  Seating on the other hand was actually better than I had seen on some previous cruises.  There was a lower and upper seating area along with more seating out by the pool areas.  You should not have a problem getting a seat once you actually have a plate of food.

The food in Cezanne was just ok.  After a few cruises, I have lowered my buffet expectations and the food on this buffet was similar to what I have seen on the last two.  It is what it is.  Everything that was supposed to be warm or hot was warm or hot and the staff was doing their best to keep things in stock.  Along with the normal buffet choices, you could also opt to visit a wok station, a fish and chips station or a deli sandwich station.  But again, depending on when you got there, the lines could be VERY long.  The fish and chips were good and so were the made-to-order deli sandwiches.  We never got a chance to try the wok station due to the crowd, but some friends of our did and said it was excellent.

2 things Carnival should simply eliminate; the "late night Mexican buffet" which now replaces the full midnight buffet and the midday "chocolate buffet." These were supposed to have been special occasions, but were pretty uneventful and lackluster. The "Mexican buffet" consisted of a few nicely carved fruit items on the 2 dessert stations and one ice sculpture. The food was no different than what you would have found during lunch or dinner in Cezanne. We walked down to see it and chuckled and walked away. The same goes for the chocolate buffet. It was a waste of money and resources.

The thing I wish Carnival and even some other cruise lines like NCL would think about changing is their beverage service in the buffet areas.  Royal Caribbean has staff that roams around asking if they can get you juice, milk, tea or coffee once you get your food and find a seat.  Carnival does not. You have to find a seat and then go to one of the drink stations to get tea, juice or coffee.  That can be an additional hassle after you have stood forever in the food line.  Just a little difference in service that I have noticed as I get more cruises under my belt.

You could also opt for the traditional hotdog, pizza or hamburger from those areas out by the pools.  Again...the food there was ok and edible. No complaints.

Now on to the dining room and specialty restaurant.  We ate dinner almost every night in the Monet dining room which is the “assigned time and seat” dining option.  The anytime dining can be found in the Renoir dining room.  The service was stellar.  Kate and her team were very attentive and the food always showed up quickly and at the right temperature.  This was the 1st time that we had at least 3 servers attending to our table (actually 4 when you consider we even had a “specialty beverage server” as I will call him).  The food was good overall.  Some dishes were better than others, but they were all good.  The one difference again that I will note is that it seemed that Carnival offers less in the way of dessert choices at dinner.  You were given 2 different options every night along with their standard offerings that are on the menu every night.

I was waiting for that “wow” dining experience when it came to the food with Carnival and I just never got it.  I had heard so much about the lobster tail that you get with Carnival and I was a bit disappointed when I saw the portion that you were given.

We did decide one night to try the Conquest’s specialty dining venue, the Point.  You pay $30 per person extra to eat at the Point, but I do recommend giving it a try.  The food was great and so was the very attentive service.  I had the best dessert of the cruise while dining here.  The only con to this venue was its location.  You were seated with a view of one of the outside decks on deck 10.  Other specialty restaurants on other ships are usually placed in a quiet area with a nice view of the ocean which adds to the ambience and experience.

We did order room service a few times.  They were very prompt.  We ordered lunch one day during a sea day and it only took 10 minutes from the time we place the order until the food showed up at our door.  We also opted to have breakfast in our room one morning and it showed up precisely at the time we had asked for.  The only negatives were that our breakfast showed up without a spoon which made eating cereal a bit of a challenge with a fork and I do wish they offered a better room service selection.  For example...we asked if we could get fries with our sandwich instead of potato chips and were simply told no.  I know enough about cruise ships to know that the food pretty much comes from the same galley and I am not sure why they would not try to accommodate what seemed like a simple request.

Before I end the discussion about the food, I need to touch on the sushi venue and the specialty coffee area.  I was excited about the sushi since I LOVE sushi.  But I was disappointed to see that you only had 3 choices each day.  Basically you had a tuna choice, a crab choice and a non-fish choice each day.  The good news is that it was included in the price of your cruise.  Not so though with any of the sweets from the specialty coffee area.  Unlike Princess, NCL, Disney and Royal Caribbean, you had to pay extra with Carnival for a decent cookie, piece of cake or any of the other food choices found here.  The prices ranged from $1.50 up to $3.00.  And after trying some of the dessert choices on the buffet, it really made you crave something decent as far as treats are concerned which must be Carnival’s plan.  Cookies on the buffet were very small and hard so if you wanted a decent, freshly baked cookie, you had to pay for it.  Again...same galley, but different levels of food quality.  I am not a fan of that practice at all.

The food and service in the dining room and and specialty restaurant gets an A- grade while the other food options get a C grade.

Stay tuned for part 3 where I will be discussing the entertainment, and the ports of call.


Angela in Ohio said...

Great review so far! I totally agree with the placement of the Internet cafes on Conquest class ships. It's like they forgot to put one on when the designed the ship and just stuck it wherever they could find a spot.

I also agree with the beverage service--would be nice if it was more like Royal.

Keep the reviews coming! said...

Thanks so much Angela. I finally have the full review finished.