MITSUGIRLY decides to CONQUEST new ports-complete pictorial review
Day 1: Flying to Florida for the night
ABOUT MY FAMILY AND WHO CRUISED THIS TIME:
This cruise was just for myself, my husband and Sakari (pronounced just like it's spelled Sa-Kar-ee, our now 9 year old daughter. This time, my 3 other adult children would remain home (Kenny-30, Kendra-28 and Kolin-22). Kendra tried (as she always does) to go, but her fiance talked her into a Vegas trip instead and she had a blast (but was wishing she was with us instead for the first few days).
So...what does this mean for us? It means we had a "peaceful" cruise that wasn't too stressful with a hyper/hard too control/off the hook grandson and a slow moving family (Kendra) that lives her life on "island time".
I decided to try Carnival, back in 2013, and I'm so glad I did and we have a wonderful time on Carnival. So far, this will be our 5th cruise with Carnival and not our last for sure.
Camera's used this cruise: This entire review was shot with my Olympus Tough TG2.
We usually cruise during Sakari's Spring Break since there was one year that we didn't do/go anywhere and it just about killed me knowing everyone I knew actually "got out of town". I said "never again" and I meant it. So, Spring Break is always a given time for us and for some reason, we always end up on Carnival for that cruise. This time would be no different. However, this year her Spring Break was a little late compared to others and all the previous years.
I started searching cruises available and knew that I wanted something "new" again...new ship, new ports with the ports being the priority. For several years we went back and forth between the Western and Eastern (with the Western being the most traveled) and for the last several years, we have been trying to do "new" (to us) ports...such as Southern and Bermuda.
At this point, I didn't care WHICH ship, as long as it went to any new ports. I came very close to doing a cruise before, that went to the ABC islands (something I have always wanted to do), and ended up booking something else that was new for us. I couldn't find an ABC cruise this time around, so...I settled for A & C and whatever else came with it.
We decided on the Conquest: Grand Turk (already been there a few times now and enjoy it) and 3 NEW PORTS FOR US!!! La Romana, Dominican Republic, Aruba, and Curacao!!! I was super excited to experience these places. I knew nothing about the Conquest and had never been on that class ship, but knew that others seem to like it a lot. So...we booked.
I recently discovered something I didn't know about for a few years now. This REALLY benefits us and I wish I would have learned about this earlier. But, better late (my late, not Kendra's type of late) than never.
My husband owns his own business (a store that sells bikes, blades, scooters, skateboards, penny boards, wake boards and long boards....because even though you can't tell these days, he used to be a bladder and was really fit and it's his passion...so they always say work in something you are passionate about and you will succeed). We have a Southwest Business card that earns points. Ok, this is nothing new. HOWEVER....I recently found out (using a good old google search for something else I was trying to figure out using points) that SW has Carnival gift cards! SCORE!!!! I had no idea. In the past, I have been frantically and impatiently waiting for the Carnival gift cards to show up randomly on Verizon to purchase them at a discounted price and then other times I have went to my local grocery store to 1) purchase the cards using my credit card to earn cash back on the cc, then 2) earning free gas using the points from the purchase (I once had free gas for...I think it was 3 months and 2 days)...but NOW...whoa...we are taking it to an entirely different level now!
So, I used some of our points to purchase the gift cards to pay for our cruise. THEN I purchased more gift cards to use as OBC on the ship. So what does this mean you might ask? IT MEANS FREE CRUISING!!!!!!!!!! Yes! I have found a way to cruise for free now!
It doesn't get any better than that....or does it? Well you are about to find out!
Next....Since we also earn so many points, we also fly for free. Every time we reach 110,000 points in a year (which we can do in a month) you get a "companion pass" and the companion will fly for free for the rest of that current year PLUS the following year until December, potentially getting almost 2 free years of flying. Sam is my companion (he claims these benefits comes to him with the ring on his finger) and Sakari and I book using all the points. Basically, we each pay $5.60/pp to fly (imposed 911 fee you HAVE to pay).
Summing this up so far...
1) Free cruise
2) Free OBC for everything we do while on the ship
3) Flying there and back for free.
It can't possibly get any better right?
A little more research revealed that there were also certain hotels that you could either buy gift cards for or gift certificates. Well whatcha think 'bout that? I would also be able to purchase the certificates for my hotel stay=free again!
Life doesn't get any better right?
Well, yea that's about right for now. At least until I find other ways to beat the system. (I have also found gift cards and tickets for places like Sea World and Universal Studios and we have also been using points for those for mini vacations as well).
So I purchased mounds of Carnival gifts cards, booked the cruise and purchased more for the cruise.
Oh yea, the other good thing about these cards and purchasing them using SW is that their office (that ships the cards) is located here in my state and once it's processed, I receive them within 2 days.
Once my cruise was booked, I was off to research each port and find new ideas for our water-loving family to experience. That's usually where the fun begins. :D
Months of planning and anticipation and it was almost time for our cruise.
The previous (and current) month before the cruise I finished up one of my nursing classes (for those that don't know, I'm a nurse and currently going back to school for my bachelors...S.L.O.W.L.Y and I'm in no hurry...I actually schedule my classes AROUND my cruising...;p).
Next on the list, we also decided to purchase a house during this time frame. Eek! Things took a little longer than expected (2 months) and we actually closed right before the cruise. Immediately, we started remodeling and tearing the place up. My oldest son, Kenny, decided that he was going to do our bedroom remodel while we were on vacation, so we didn't have to worry about using the room or a place to sleep (and probably not have mom supervising during such an extensive project). Instead of packing for vacation, I was packing up my room and moving it out...into the hallway, Sakari's room, the loft, and anywhere I could find space. Talk about a stress-filled week, I didn't really even have time to get excited about the cruise. There was just too much on my mind at the time.
I think I have made it abundantly clear in my previous reviews that we are NOT morning people. We are night owls. Cruising really does take a toll on us because we usually stay up really late (2-3am) and get up late. We completely have to adjust our schedules and hope that our circadian rhythm catches up to the time change when cruising. I can confirm that once we return...it definitely hits us like a brick wall and I'm ready for bed at 11pm now. LOL
With us liking to sleep in, I try my best to find an "appropriate" flight that suits our schedules. This usually means anything after 12 noon. Anything before that is just absurd to us and I just want to cry when I get stuck with earlier flights. I was lucky enough to find a non-stop flight from Ohio at 3:20pm and arriving in FLL 5:50ish I think it was. Perfect!
A little last minute packing, some charting on my patients, circling every room about 5 times to make sure I'm not forgetting anything, dropping my time sheet off at the office, eating "breakfast" and it was time to head to the port. My son arrived minutes before we were leaving to start working on our bedroom "project/remodel" and I decided to snap a few pictures of our "old" "small" room and then we said our goodbyes and off we went.
We arrived at the parking lot and waited on the shuttle to pick us up and take us over to the airport. Sakari was super excited! The hubby was busy trying to adjust his new pair of shoes he grabbed out of his store because he managed to paint his other ones the day before (spraying all of our wood trim white in the garage turns your shoes white if you get to close, from the over spray...who knew?),
Our shuttle arrived quickly and off the airport we went.
We checked our luggage, checked ourselves, and then found a spot at our gate that had outlets close by to charge our phones to full capacity for the flight (we always watch movies if the plane has wifi or play games on them).
At this point, my husband gave me this worried look. Oh no, what did we forget? Then he showed me this...
And then this...
Boy my son doesn't waste any time!!
At that point, I felt my body get hot, my face overcame with a worried look, and I started to fret! I was not going to be there to over-see this project and what could potentially go wrong...but I think that was the point in doing it while we were gone...that way I wouldn't have to be there to experience it.
Our plane was 10 minute late, but eh, whatever...we didn't really care and wasn't in a hurry since we always fly in the day before.
I had so many thoughts and emotions racing around in my head from the pictures my son was sending me...but it was time to line up in our respective "B" sections and get on the plane.
For some reason, even though we checked in at the same time, I was about 20 numbers ahead of my husband, so I boarded the plane first and grabbed some seats with Sakari and waited on daddy. Then I discovered it...........in the mound of emotions my brain was experiencing...I had forgot to unplug and grab my charging phone inside!!! GASP!!! I frantically waited for the hubby to appear on the plane and started flailing my arms and giving sign language...GO BACK! MY PHONE! I DON'T HAVE MY PHONE! TURN AROUND! GRAB IT OUT OF THE WALL! People must have thought I was a mad woman at that point. But, we read each others minds 99.9% of the time and he immediately knew what I was trying to relay to him in a rage of frantic-ness.
He disappeared and the plane was filling up. Please don't make me have to get off the plane to search for him...please don't. I don't want to start out this vacation like this. And then I seen him peek around the corner with a sad look on his face and shaking his head "nope". I must have had a blank, lost stare on my face because it didn't take long before he just couldn't keep a straight face anymore and started laughing. What a jokester! He had it in his hand and we settled in for our flight.
Everything was good in our world once again! Sakari and I played around with some phone pics to say goodbye to Kendra, Kenny, and Kolin.
Then off we went!
Before long, we were served our complimentary "lunch":
We had a lot of screaming kids on this flight and a mom who walked up and down the isle the entire flight, other than when the seat belt signs were on during take off and landing of course. I don't think I had ever seen anyone do that before.
As I was looking at the SW magazine, I noticed this picture/advertisement:
There was one review I did where we got on a SW plane and they pulled Sakari into the cockpit and allowed her to mess with the controls and let me get pictures and I recall some on here talking about how that was "illegal" to do and because of security issues (assuming since 911) that the pilots and staff that allowed this could be fired and their license taken. Well, obviously this must not be the case if they are advertising it. Right?
We safely arrived at the airport and went to retrieve our luggage. I couldn't help but think of the poor people that were doing the same thing as us, not too long ago, and had a shooter come in the doors and open fire, killing several people that were coming in for their cruise from here. I know that one couple was from here in Ohio and it really hit home thinking how this could happen and how such hatred has become the norm in the world these days. It's just so sad. I did notice and increase in security/police officers around this area and outside.
Once we were outside and feeling the warm breeze of Florida rushing around our bodies, I called the hotel for our "complimentary shuttle".
Sakari was busy watching the lizards and taking pictures when she could.
She did a good job on that picture. There's hope for her after all.
The van quickly arrived and we were on our way.
So picking up where I left off...heading to the hotel.
I promise you that Southwest is always the terminal furthest from the taxi/hotel pick up area. It feels like you walk a mile to get there and dragging luggage with you and trying to keep your ducklings in line without falling behind always seems like a task. But hey, I'm about to be on a cruise, where I'll eat so much that I normally gain 8-10 pounds each cruise...yea, I need this walk badly.
Our hotel van picked us up and we arrived in a very short time at the hotel. We always try to stay at a different location (just like we like to try different places in port out) each time and this time we picked the Hyatt Place at the Convention Center. It seemed to be in a good location for walking to everything we needed. As we pulled onto the street, I noticed another hotel we had previously stayed at and knew exactly where we were.
It was a easy and quick check in and I was using my Hyatt Certificates I purchased with my SW card. They told me to hang on to them and I would use them during check out.
We were given the choice of the 1st floor or the 3rd floor. Honestly, I have never been given an option and this was a nice change. I have never been able to stay on a lower floor, so of course I decided the 1st floor would be our choice. It worked out GREAT! We were 2 doors down from a side door and a quick escape from the room when leaving.
The price of the room was $219 and after tax $243. It was a decent price for the area when I was checking prices of various hotels. Man, the price of hotels sure has went up over the years of cruising. I used to be able to get a room for less than $100.
Now notice the highlighted area that says "Transportation Charges" and $2.00. There was a big debate about this hotel and whether or not this was charged. Some reported it was, others reported it wasn't. I called after I booked (using a 3rd party source) and was told it was included in their "special" price. When the front desk ask if we used their transportation, I told them yes and also told them that we were told that it was included. She told me she would remove it from the charges on my account. I mean yes, it's only $2.00 but your word is your word right? So those that are wondering...I guess there is a $2.00 charge and it was per family, not per person.
Our room was like many other rooms we have stayed in. The "bedroom" is split off by a wall and the sofa turns into a bed. It's a pretty spacious room when they are like this and I like it.
When you first walk in, there is a little "office" area with a desk for the computer, refrigerator and sink.
One thing that struck me odd was that they already had the couch pulled out into a bed. I have never had them do this before. We usually don't like the bed out until it's time to sleep because it does take up some space in the room and prefer to be able to sit on the couch to watch tv and relax prior to bed.
The bed wasn't made or anything. I still had to locate the comforter and pillows tucked away in the closet. But, I was too tired and hungry to put the couch back together.
Sakari looked at "our" bed and immediately said "That's my room"...um no child, it's not. Until you grow up, get a job, and book your own room, this remains mommy and daddy's room thank you very much!
There was a nice sized area off of the bedroom and bathroom to get ready.
The shower was super nice and very relaxing after we returned that night.
We also booked a room with a King sized bed. This was a first for us as well and I slept great! Our bed at home is King sized and every time we stay in a hotel, they have the normal full sized beds and I sleep terrible! I complain every time and always say I'll get a Queen or King next time, then never do. Well not this time. I must have had my marbles with me the day I booked!
Now to take a look around the hotel itself....
Off of the lobby area was a restaurant/dinning area for breakfast. It was a decent size (bigger than most I have been to).
There was also a bar area that wrapped around to the front desk. There was always someone there enjoying it during our short stay.
The breakfast area.
Off to the side, they had a computer/internet area as well.
The thing I found odd about this hotel is that they DID NOT have vending machines anywhere. Not on the floors, not in the lobby. But, they did have a small area at the desk that you could be cold items and pop was $3.25 each!!!!
After getting situated, we decided to head out to find some food and explore the immediate area. I knew there was a mall close by with food and we decided to head across the street to locate it.
Before long, we came to a short wall, which for fluffy people like us, it becomes an army wall scale to test our ability to climb. You would think with the hubby being a skater for so many years and jumping up on high walls to skate the ledges, he'd be a pro at this. But that belly gets in the way every time now. Oops
We found the mall and walked a complete circle around it, burning those calories of course, and checking out everything it had to offer.
I remember several people on here talking about how they always go to Duffy's when they stay in the area and once I found it, I decided that was the place for us for the night.
The place was busy, but not packed. Our service was pretty slow. It was a good 10-15 minutes, after being seated, that anyone even acknowledged that we were there and took our drink order. It was a wait for our drinks as well.
Then we had to flag our waiter down to order our food...and the waiting began again. Once the food arrived, it was good, but the service just was not the greatest. We were not offered refills on pop, we were not checked on to see if the meal was ok, and we waited forever for them to clear our table. Once he came by to clear the table, he didn't bring us the check.
I was getting tired of sitting and waiting and decided I was going to head outside with Sakari and take some pictures and I passed the waiter on the way out. He was all the way in the front of the restaurant talking to some co-workers.
The pictures posted in the previous post were the pictures I was busy taking until the hubby finally came outside after paying the bill.
We headed back to the hotel (it was about a 2 hour experience).
We (Sakari and I) watched t.v. and the hubby caught up on some work and we were in bed by 1am and dreaming about the day to come.