Since I learned so much from the thoughtful information posted by previous cruiser's on this site, I felt compelled to lend my humble opine.
My last Carnival Cruise was over ten years ago on the Ecstasy, and really was less than stellar. Average food, average service, and being herded around the boat like kindergartners from what I recollect. Well, Carnival has come a long way since. My voyage on the Conquest was a family sojourn, with my family of four, my brother's family of four, along with my parents. By now, everyone has read the detailed reviews, so I will try and keep it concise with a few salient new insights.
Embarkation...boat was late getting in therefore embarkation started around 1 pm....go see the opera house in Galveston if this happens to you, air conditioned, costs around $4, and good 30 minute diversion. Also, a Starbucks is in walking distance of the port. Oh, they won't let your kids stick their tongues out for their embarkation id photo's (yeah, I know everyone was wondering about that).
As for my room....absolutely awesome. We were on the spa deck with the floor to ceiling windows, but no balcony. These are the family rooms and are great if you have kids, balcony rooms are concerning for kids crawling out (my kids are 9 and 7). Great view of the ports from this perspective, a short walk to the steam room/spa/hot-tub. The rooms had ample space, the new lenin sheets are resort quality, and my cabin steward was awesome. They offer in room recent movies (saw Walk the Line and Robots)...but bring your own alarm clock, since none are in the rooms. Also, I use a CPAP (for sleep apnea), and you'll need an extension cord.
As for the ship, this is one big sucker. And remember, big ships have large numbers of passengers. That said, sneak up to the forward decks around 10 pm or later and you can have some privacy and look at the stars. Cigar smokers (like myself)...the only place you can fire up a stogie is Alfred's cigar lounge, but great jazz. Also,,,too windy on deck to enjoy a decent cigar. And remember, no Cuban's were for sale on ship via the humidor, so pick a few up in port for on ship consumption. Other reviews have mentioned the ships public rooms and are quite accurate, so I won't dwell on this.
Carnival has made great progress in the arena of dining. However, some of the meals are hit and miss in the dining room. I personally recommend the Monet dining room in the aft area, since the view from the windows on the back of the ship are great. Big tip...always ask the waiter what he recommends for dinner, because he is almost always correct. I really don't like chicken much, but chose beef (which wasn't very good) over the recommended yard-bird which was the bomb. Everyone should try the Point supper club, which was well worth the extra money. Some previous reviewers claim this is the same food as in the dinning room...man are they wrong. For example, I had lobster bisque in both venues...the dinning room bisque was average at best while that at the Point was fabulous. As for other reviewers cuisine reviews, remember, don't expect 5* cuisine at a 3* price.
Camp Carnival was nice, but underutilized by my family. I truly enjoyed listening to the classical music in the lobby, the jazz in Alfred's, and watching my boys do the worm across the disco floor at Henri's during Motown night. As for the Cruise director, Malcolm, some will love him, while others may want to decapitate him the next time they hear "woohoo" again. Frankly, I'm not a night owl, so piling all the family into bed at 9 pm to watch a movie was great.
As for service...I had the best experience ever as far as wait-staff and room stewards. (I've been on 3 previous cruises).
My favorite port was actually Jamaica...we went horseback riding and the countryside is phenomenal. The history of the island is wonderful, and the people I met genuine and nice. We did the stingray city tour in Cayman (aptly named since around 1,000 people were gathered on a sandbar with around 30 stingrays beings shamelessly groped)...but this was really fun. All the trees were blown over by the recent hurricane. The food was expensive, but the snorkeling awesome. Cozumel was fun, but the shop owners can be aggressive. Went to Senor Frogs/Carlos and Charlies and watched all the gringos getting' tequila crammed down their throats (queue baracho)...
Disembarkation...if you self assist...be in the lobby of your floor ready to push the down button on the elevator at precisely 6:14 am...5 minutes difference at this stage can translate into 30 minutes difference in getting off the boat.
Now to summarize...
Do bring a bottle or two of wine/champagne on board. Do bring a bottle of rum and pick up around 4 glasses of punch from the dining areas...makes great rum punch. Do tip, even though it's included (15% on all bar purchases and a fee added upon arrival for waitstaff/stewards/etc)...a buck or two here and there may merit you a free drink or understanding when that $22 beach towel gets misplaced. Do listen to your waiter's dinner recommendations. Do go to the Pointe Supper Club at least one night. Do take advantage of the ample live music. Do attend the Captain's Cocktail party...but be careful trying one of every cocktail they offer. Do get your picture taken by the ship photographers, no obligation to buy and they offer great photos. Do place close attention to your daily folio charges via the interactive menu on your television, since they do sometimes make mistakes. Do try cerviche in Cozumel. Do try out the steamroom at least once.
You can bring booze/wine onto the boat in your luggage. You can easily get Cuban cigars through customs (not that I would do that...and I'm sure my "Cuban's" were really Dominican knock offs). You can order lobster/filet nightly even if it's not on the menu. You can order cappuccino with each meal at no extra cost (my waiter brought it nightly with my desert without my request since I quickly learned my coffee habits).
Don't buy art at the art auction...you really can get it cheaper with a stateside art dealer (try www.art-exchange.com). Don't sneak drugs stateside...I don't do drugs just fyi and saw a lady being put into police custody in Galveston for this. Don't expect win at craps if you don't know the rules of the game. Don't save a chair on deck and leave for 3 freakin' hours...sometimes the deck chairs were scarce.
Best thing I ate...tough choice...tie between the bisque at the Pointe, the Filet at the Pointe, or the meringue desert in the Monet. Best party...Captain's Cocktail Party Best port...Jamaica Best Carnival employee..tie between our waiter Ian or our steward Josef Best show...Joe Fillapow Trio (jazz) Best surprise...hearing "Ocean Breeze" classical trio in the lobby...but man what a cheesy name...personally I would change it to Haydn's Hellions or Bachly Crue....but very talented and relaxing. Best shore excursion....horseback riding in Jamaica
Yes, I would cruise Carnival again, albeit with my family. Carnival is a party ship,,,but still appropriate for a family. Personally, I would prefer to go on Seabourn or Windstar next if it was just my wife and myself.
I hope this review offered a little new insight into Carnival, The Conquest, and cruising in general.