EMBARKATION -- We really didn't know what to expect for embarkation. We arrived at 11:00 though and were in our rooms by 11:30. It was completely a non-issue. We had also been told that our luggage would not be delivered to our rooms until 7:00 or so that evening, but we had everything by 4:30.
CABIN -- Our cabin was really great. We had a balcony on the Panorama deck and it was much larger than I had imagined it would be. The closet space was "eh" to "okay". Everything fit, but it was a little tight. There are some built in shelves which help with folded clothes as the drawer space is a little limited, too. All in all, the best word to describe space was "adequate".
The bathroom was very functional. Water pressure in the shower was very good, and we never ran out of hot water. Getting used to the loud vacuum sound when you flushed took some time and was a source of many laughs throughout the cruise. Plus, there was a tile with a creepy picture of a shawled old lady right above the toilet which was a little off-putting.
Our cabin stewardess was very nice and took fantastic care of us throughout the entire cruise.
SERVICE -- Our service was mixed. Room service was horrible to say the least. I had ordered a bottle of Dom Perignon and a tray of canapes to be delivered at embarkation. When I called to ask about it I was told that the port of Galveston didn't allow alcohol to be delivered and that I would have to wait until "maybe the next day" which was a clear lie. Of course there were still the canapes that I had ordered to go along with the champagne...when would I like those delivered? There were at least 4 calls to clarify that I wanted them delivered WITH the champagne. The next day I was called to be notified that the canapes were ready to be delivered. When they arrived, they came with a generic $40 bottle of champagne which was a far cry from the $140 bottle of Dom that I had ordered and paid for. The champagne, when delivered, was delivered without an ice bucket and without glasses. The room service staff seemed put out I asked for glasses.
Our second real incident was that on the second night of the cruise (the first "formal" night), my partner was too sea sick to stay for dinner. He went back to our stateroom to rest and ordered room service, which never came.
On another incident, I had gone to the cigar bar to get a cigar cut and to retrieve some matches. The bartender told me that they were just finishing up tea service (the cigar bar is also where high tea is served...go figure), turned around and walked away. I guess in his mind, that was that and nothing else needed to be discussed.
Now, in Carnival's defense, when I notified the Purser's desk about this (in writing, which I also e-mailed to Carnival from the internet cafe), they sent a letter to my cabin apologizing for our poor service experiences and sent a bottle of Dom Perignon as an apology.
As for the remainder of the ship...service was great (except the one incident at the cigar bar I mentioned above). I had sushi every afternoon as a pre-dinner appetizer, and it was really very good. The coffee bar made excellent lattes and had some amazing looking deserts which I never tried. The bartender at the wine bar was very friendly.
The casino staff was also very friendly, even making conversation at the table games. If you don't know how to play a game (I learned how to play Caribbean Stud Poker on this trip and won quite a few times) they are very good about teaching you without making you feel like an idiot. The staff had a great sense of humor and were good natured (I even joked with a few of them about being a "cooler" when I started loosing after a change of dealers). I highly recommend joining into the slots tournament - I won $500 on a $20 entry.
Our service in the Monet room was fantastic! The waiter and assistant waiter for our table was hilarious and we made friends with them both over the course of the cruise. His honesty about certain dishes was very refreshing (made a sour face if we asked his opinion about something that he didn't recommend), and had our drinks ready for us at our table before we ever even arrived for dinner.
I found the service at the Pinnacle restaurant (the on-board supper club) to be great, but in all honesty, not that much better than the Monet - probably because our service in Monet was just that good.
FOOD -- The food on the cruise was very good in my opinion...and I'm kinda a food snob.
We typically had breakfast each morning in the Cezzanne which is the Lido deck buffet style restaurant. Nothing over the top here, just your average fare. Eggs, breakfast meats, omelette bar, fresh fruit, blah blah blah. The pastry chef on board was great and made some really good breakfast pastries.
I had breakfast one morning at the Monet which is a full service breakfast. It was fair. I had eggs benedict which were almost flavorless and a little cold. It wasn't terrible though.
For lunch I would at least try Sur Mer which is the seafood restaurant on the Panorama deck, aft. The bouillabaisse was really good as was the seared ahi tuna and ceviche, both of which were very small portions. All of the fried foods were pretty bad in my opinion. The "fried blue point oysters" were a lot like a crispy pancake of fried batter with a couple of oysters hidden in there somewhere. The "fried calamari" reminded me of a giant hush puppy.
The pizza was good, but not fantastic. The burger station was the same.
Dinner was always very, very good. Caesar salad dressings were made from scratch (yes, there are real anchovies in there). The only entree that I had that was remotely "average" was a dover sole which I found to be small in portion size and dry. Everything else was excellent.
Dinner at the Point was also excellent and worth the $30 per person cover charge. I had the porterhouse which was so large I couldn't finish it.
While I would like to be able to comment on the chocolate buffet, I can't. From the size of the line to get to the deserts you would think that those people hadn't eaten in months. What I can say is that the deserts looked good...just didn't try them.
PORTS -- Jamaica -- I could live the rest of my life without ever going back to Jamaica again. That said, I'm sure that we just didn't see the pretty parts of the island. The port, and the area around it, seem to be in a really impoverished part of the city. When we got off the boat we had a couple of hours to kill before our scheduled excursion, so we found an approved taxi to take us to a shopping area. Our driver was very friendly and we got his number for later in the day. We went to the city centre market area which was pretty scary, and smelled. On top of that, the shop owners were very pushy about getting you into their stores and getting you to buy something. You had to be pretty forceful about saying "no".
We got out of there pretty quickly, called the driver who had taken us there to pick us up and went to Margaritaville. Margaritaville was great - had to have a "cheeseburger in paradise" and margarita. Picked up some souvenirs and went back to catch our excursion.
We did the catamaran/snorkel adventure which was really fun. Once again, though, some of the crew was being very aggressive about trying to sell you things. We had a slight confrontation when my partner politely said that he had purchased some of the items she was selling "yesterday" instead of saying that he wasn't interested in her items. The staff member said - "you're on the Conquest right? They just pulled into port today".
Grand Cayman -- We didn't get to go into Grand Cayman. The waters were too rough to tender us in and the port was closed due to safety concerns. Regrettable, but understandable. We steamed on to Cozumel.
Cozumel -- I knew that there would be damage to the island, but I can't even begin to describe how much devastation those folks endured during hurricane Wilma. Even with all the devastation, the residents were incredibly nice and very happy to see Americans with hard currency to spend. They are working very hard to get the island back in shape, but they weren't quite there yet.
All that being said, our excursion (Beginner's Scuba) was fantastic and we purchased the majority of our souvenirs there. While I would have tried to barter for price under normal circumstances, I just couldn't bring myself to do that this time and paid whatever price was marked.
Also, we opted to have breakfast in Cozumel that morning rather than on the ship. There is a open air restaurant right across from the dock where the tenders land...it was awesome, cheap, and more food than either of us could eat.
OVERALL -- Would I take this cruise again? Absolutely. You really get more than you pay for which makes it an incredible value. The accommodations were spacious and comfortable. On top of all that, it was incredibly fun.