Mar
09
Down the Mighty Mississip’

Looking down the ship from the deck.

I don’t know what these ships do but they were about as big as us.

1x zoom again. That camera’s not too shabby!

My New Orleans knowledge level is very low, but this looks like some sort of military base. There were signs on both sides reading “US Revetment.”

Again, not sure, but this looked like a battlefield. I’m sure I could figure it out with Google but really, do you know how lazy I am?

Mar
09
More Day 1

Please let me know if I’m breaking these up too much. I think after so many pictures it’s best to start a new post rather than making one monstrosity that someone will no doubt quote entirely to say “thx.”

Anyway, after lunch we briefly explored the aft outside deck. The Norwegian Star was parked right behind us. Coincidentally, we had already just about decided on a Baltic Capitals cruise someday, and the Star will be doing that duty for NCL next summer.

We walked back to the cabin and noticed the suitcases were outside. I was anxious to see if our, ahem, enhancements to plain soda, ahem, had made it through unharmed. Those ром бегунов sure did the trick!

While I had the suitcases open, I decided it was easy enough to just unpack. Elle usually puts all the hanging clothes right in with the hangers, so I was able to lift those out and be halfway done unpacking in about 30 seconds. I knew the safety drill was coming up, so I started looking for the life preservers. They were not in the designated closet but instead under the bed. I noticed we were short a child preserver and intended to ask our room steward when we met him.

The safety drill was the same as I always remember except life preservers are no longer required at the drills. That’s probably been going on for ages, but I haven’t cruised in 7 years. We had the usual long wait for the people who think they can get away with skipping the drill. During the wait, the carnival employee leading our section alternated between fussing at people for talking and carrying on a joking conversation with the closest guests. It was windy and a bit cold, but that didn’t stop Jack from passing out.

After the drill, I made the mistake of trying to rapidly carry Jack up 6 flights of stairs. I’m not in the same shape I was when I was 19 or even last year, and I had to stop and pant for awhile after the 4th flight of steps. The last 2 went much more slowly, but we made it back to the cabin just in time for Jack to wake up.

When we entered the room, a second child’s life jacket was sitting on the bed. It was cool to see even the smallest details taken care of without us having to ask.

While finishing unpacking, we noticed the ship start to move, and we alternated between the big front windows and the deck outside. It was too chilly for Elle and the boys to stay out there continuously, but I stayed out there the first 30-45 minutes. This post is seeming long again so I’ll break here and post my dreary Mississippi pics in the next one.
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Mar
09
Embarkation Part 3

Jack enjoying a lounger in the cool, windy NO weather. IIRC, it sprinkled a bit on us too before we left.

Jack and Elle. He spends a lot more time with her since I work, but some days he’s a total Daddy’s boy.

At 12:30, Elle wanted to make a run for the cabin. I told her she could open it first since it was partially her b-day present, but she surprised me by disappearing into the 10th floor somewhere while Jack and I fought our way through the Lido deck crowds. After some waiting I finally met her and Max in our gorgeous cabin.

As I mentioned earlier, I’m going to leave most of the cabin pics and discussion in the Conquest Captain Suites thread. I took some quick pictures with the iPad and then we headed out for lunch.

Although in retrospect I should have just gone with my gut and ordered a Guy’s burger every day, Elle persuaded me not to overload since it was already later and she wanted everyone hungry for dinner. We chose sandwiches from the deli and were able to get a table with a good view. The Carnival staff’s friendliness impressed us right away. I’ve heard many of the employees do long contracts away from their families so they like playing with customers’ children. I’ve deployed enough times to understand that sentiment. It was sweet to see how they played with both boys, but honestly Jack usually winds up being the celebrity. Max has recently entered his teenage years about 5 years early and tries to be withdrawn and full of angst. We generally have to force him to talk to others, but the Carnival staff pulled him right out of his shell.

Mar
09
Embarkation continued

I’m going to drop the DS/DH/DW lingo here because I’ve never been a huge fan of it and I always feel the need to nerd out about our DS being a DSer. Anyway, the family is:

Me: Ted, 42 yo
Wife: Elle, 40 the day before the cruise
#1 Son: Max, 8
#2 Son: Jack, 5

Jack and I posed for a quick pic with my phone. The caption on Facebook read “On the ship. Phone off.” I wasn’t brave enough to turn it off right that second. My top button stopped working over Christmas and the only was I can power on my phone is with a plug. I wanted to wait until we were in the cabin before turning it off.

Jack and I on the ship!

I couldn’t resist running to the railing to take a picture of what would become our deck, right over the bridge there.

9202 deck from the outside

Max and Elle were as excited as me.

Max and Elle

Mar
09
Day 1 – Embarkation

After snoozing another few hours with DS5, we woke up. The first thing I did was check the static Erato St Terminal webcam, which wasn’t working 🙁 Some CC searching found me the streaming one from Zydecocruiser’s posts/website: http://wcerato.portno.com/view/viewer_index.shtml. For a mobile device, you can choose “Motion JPEG” from the streaming profile.

Everyone gathered around me in the bed to look at pictures of our ship. We could easily make out the Captain’s Suites since they stick out on the right and left sides.

I went back and forth over when to get to the terminal, fighting the urge to sit there at 7 am and wait for them to open the gates 🙂 My wife came up with a practical idea that made us slow down a bit: I don’t want to get on board and not be able to eat right away 🙂 I wasn’t sure precisely when the food would open, so we started looking for breakfast.

My wife wanted beignets, and I started looking for Cafe du Monde locations. There seemed to be one right near the terminal, but I knew 1) the traffic would be a bit crazy for we country dwellers and 2) I couldn’t be that close to the Conquest and not board.

So, we decided on a Metairie location that turned out to be in a mall. Approaching the mall it didn’t look good. At 9 on a Sunday there were hardly any cars. I know malls usually open late on Sundays, but this is New Orleans. I’m sure you could find drunk midgets having an animal orgy at this time of day in New Orleans, so why not a beignet? The mall was open for walking but the shops were all closed. A helpful gentleman suggested we should try the “original” beignet place, Morning Call Coffee Stand. It was right next to the mall and was in fact open 24/7.

We ordered 5 orders of beignets for the 4 of us, and in the end everyone walked out covered in powdered sugar. Just about everything on the menu is $1.85, apparently rounded up to $2 because of tax or something. Rather than a ticket, the server counted 2,4,6 etc for beignets and drinks, arriving at $18 for our meal of 5 orders and 4 drinks.

After brushing off, we hopped in the truck and made the final drive to the terminal with just a few detours. Google maps wanted to send us in the other end of the terminal that would have passed the Norwegian Star before getting to the Conquest. I didn’t think the road would be completely open, so we made our way down past the Morial convention center and entered the terminal per their directions. The traffic flow was well controlled by law enforcement and port employees. We entered the line for the parking garage, paid our $112, and wound our way up to level 3. There were porters waiting to stop us side-by-side. I was barely out of the truck before he had our two big suitcases out of the back and on a cart. FYI, we weren’t traveling by air and weren’t super careful on the weight. I’m pretty sure one or both bags were over 50 lbs, but Tony the porter made no complaints. I tipped him and proceeded to the car.

Another quick clarification: I’m sure I read either on CC or the Port website that the family unloads with the bags while the driver parks. They had us park together and enter the terminal together, which worked out great.

Although I wanted to run for the ship, we spent some time admiring it from the garage. We could see the front windows of the CS and couldn’t help remarking how excited we’d be to look the other direction in a few minutes.

We entered the elevator with other cruisers and headed down. FYI, there was a sign in the elevators when we returned I don’t remember seeing the day we departed. It told arriving cruisers to get off at 1R instead of 1. We didn’t see that sign, and when the doors opened on 1 the security guard was very perturbed as she told us we were doing it wrong and then pressed the 1R button.

We walked up into the security area where an employee tried to stop me from entering the VIP line. I showed him my Priority tag again and he let us go through; I think he must not have seen it the first time I showed it. The security wait was short, but the screener got very annoyed with me because I didn’t take the iPads out to be scanned individually. “Don’t you know I can’t see through them?” she sneered at me. Actually, I didn’t because I am not an X-ray technician and don’t remember seeing a sign. It’s *like* airport security, but not quite as stringent so I wasn’t going into full airline mode.

After getting through security, we walked right up to the VIP boarding area. The woman there didn’t have our name on the VIP list, but saw the priority boarding pass and CS. She said I should have been on the list but wasn’t for some reason. No worries, just wait in the lounge. The lounge looked exactly like Zydecocruiser’s photos, complete with drinks and small snacks. We had time for a quick glass of water before the VIP employee came back with whatever documents she needed. We waited maybe 2 more minutes before a friendly gentleman called us to his desk for check in.

After check in we took the obligatory embarkation picture and were gawking at the ship through the terminal windows. A helpful security guard advised us to get moving before the next large crowd from regular check-in got released to board. There wasn’t a huge crowd in the terminal, but having VIP check-in saved us some waiting in line. I wouldn’t book a suite again just for that small perk, but it’s probably worth the FTTF charge if it’s available for your cruise.

After winding our way up the gangplank, we took our security photos and entered the ship in the Lobby. There was a waiter standing there with a DotD, but our hands were full with kids and carry-ons. We made our way up to the Lido deck and found a spot to park while we waited for the cabins to open. We boarded at about 11:45 and they were ready by 12:30.

Once we got settled we got right on the Drink of the Day. I didn’t realize it was called the “Funship Special” and is the standard Carnival 1st day drink. We both liked it a lot and had more during the week when I found out the name. When I finally remembered to order it later, the waitress chuckled and said I could have just asked for the red drink from day 1 because that’s what we all do apparently Anyway, while enjoying our drinks we bought ourselves 3 Bottomless Bubbles stickers. We didn’t get little DS5 one because he doesn’t appreciate it yet or usually ask for it. Of course, during the cruise he asked for “bubble water” so I think he’s starting to get it.

Next post, Day 1 pics and a bit about the cabin.

Mar
09
Day -1

The day before the cruise, my wife’s 40th birthday, we made the uneventful 8-hour drive to New Orleans. There was a marathon in town, selling out a lot of the places offering a cruise parking package. We decided on a 2-bedroom unit at TownePlace Suites New Orleans Metairie for $189 a night. We’ve traveled plenty of times with the boys, and while a single room works, we get much better sleep with a door between the two of us.

Thanks to a leisurely start from Arkansas, we arrived at the hotel around 6:30 pm. The front desk clerk frowned at the room list for a minute and then said, “I’m sorry, but we sold out of the type of room you requested. What they did for you was give you two 1-bedroom rooms that adjoin. The whole thing will cost $20 less, is that OK?” I try to stay calm when things don’t go right, but there was no downside to their mistake. We wound up with more space for less money and still got a door between us at bedtime.

Naturally we were hungry, so we started the food search. The hotel is right next to a Popeye’s (tempting) and near a shopping center with restaurants, but we wanted something more local. I fired up Yelp and in no time was reading a review about Short Stop Po-Boys. Although the restaurant was about 2 miles away as the crow flies, we had to circumnavigate the train depot and whatever else was separating us, resulting in a 10-minute trip with traffic.

Short Stop was just what the doctor ordered. They have a good variety of po-boys, from catfish to sausage to poutine (fries and gravy–on a sub!). The ordering process is a bit different. You stand around until one of the cooks is ready, they call you up and you place your order. They don’t want to check you out until your whole order is done, so you stand there watching them put your order together and then go pay. We ordered a catfish for my wife, one for the boys to split and a crayfish for me. The sandwiches took a while to prepare, but they were delicious. My wife’s originally from the region and gave it a hearty thumbs up!

After supper we were almost back to the hotel when I spotted a Baskin Robbins. We celebrated DW’s 40th birthday a week early with cake, but it seemed strange not to do something on the actual day. Normally I would have fired up Yelp again to find a local dessert place, but we were tired and my wife never says no to BR!

I was so excited I had a hard time going to sleep, but eventually I drifted off until our 5-year-old came in from the other room at 5. The kids don’t get to come in our room on normal nights, but when traveling the little one gets to come sleep with us because he’ll usually sleep a few hours more than he would on his own. Tomorrow, the cruise I’ve been planning since July is finally here!

Mar
09
Carnival Conquest 2/24/13 Western Caribbean Review and Pictures

After a 2+-year hiatus, I’m returning to my blog to document our recent cruise to the Caribbean. Last night was a trip down memory lane as I read every post of this blog from beginning to end. It’s neat to see all the cool things I’d mostly forgotten. It’s also sad to realize all the major events that were barely documented if at all: our 1st cruise (2 years before I started this blog), our trips to London, Lanzarote, Melilla and our Alaska cruise are some of the things barely mentioned here. We used to keep a separate website for our family travels, but after the boys we found out no one wanted to look at us. That site has become a woefully out-of-date photo gallery of our boys. The old photos are still with us in storage, along with the original descriptions we wrote back then. I’m going to have to unzip that file one day and read through it all. In any event, I’m mostly posting the same things here as my Cruise Critic review. I wanted it here too so that I can read it over the years. The CC thread is here.

I’m starting this tonight to make myself finally review last week’s cruise before I forget everything. While you’re waiting for me to post more, check out my video and pictures of the Captain’s Suite in this post I sort-of hijacked: http://boards.cruisecritic.com/showthread.php?t=1785683. I won’t duplicate those pictures here but might write more about the cabin, who knows?

For starters, an introduction:

My wife and I first cruised the week of 9/11 on the RCCL Voyager of the Seas in the Caribbean. Our second cruise was on the Orient Crown Odyssey in the Mediterranean. By 2006 we had one son but family babysitting was nearby so we left him for our last hurrah and did a HAL Statendam Alaska cruisetour. Son #2 had his humble beginnings on that ship, if you get my drift.

As you can see, we haven’t cruised a ton, but we’ve experienced a good range of cruise lines and destinations in our few experiences. In 2012 I retired from the Air Force after 24 years and really wanted to celebrate with a cruise, but as I didn’t have a follow-on job at the time it seemed foolish. I managed to land a good job and became eligible for vacation in Jan 2013. Feb 23 happened to be my wife’s 40th birthday, which made it seem like a good time to celebrate her, my retirement and my new job all at once.

Our boys are now 8 and 5. Our 5 yo has Down Syndrome and operates at about a 2.5-3 yo level while still wearing diapers. Both boys are good flyers, having returned from Turkey as well as other flights with no troubles . However, flying 4 people anywhere costs almost as much as a cruise.

All these facts led me to start the following search: a cruise within driving distance of Arkansas, with a Caribbean tour near Feb 23, with a respected children’s program, that would change our DS/DS’s diapers. Up until recently our in-laws lived in Louisiana, which led me to start my search there.

It didn’t take long to discover our only option was Carnival thanks to DS5. As I read the policies, RCCL requires all kids to be toilet trained, while NCL specifies they do not change diapers at any age. Carnival advertised they happily change diapers, although they reserved the right to refuse if the child is too large. We didn’t plan to park our boys in Camp Carnival the entire cruise, but we knew going in we wanted the full-day Tulum excursion. NCL and Carnival both had cruises out of New Orleans that weekend, but due to diapers Carnival was the only real option for us.

I originally booked an OS, 7248, in order to give us at least a bit of room when all 4 were in the cabin. After booking, I started researching more luxurious options for a potential future anniversary cruise and determined the Captain’s Suite to be Carnival’s most exclusive room. Coincidentally, shortly after deciding I’d like a CS “someday,” the upsell fairy called and I decided to splurge on 9202.

That, friends, is what passes for a “brief” intro from me. I’m eventually copying these posts to my blog where all the pics are hosted: thecluelessamerican.net. I started that blog to document our 2003 cruise experience and it morphed into an on-again, off-again place for me to post random musings. It has been way more off than on. Anyway, I’m signing off for now. The real review should start tomorrow.