We sailed on the Conquest 3/26/06, and I wanted to write this review mainly for the benefit of other cruisers w/young kids (we took our 3.5 year old). I won't focus on the one unfortunate incident of excessive drinking which required an unexpected stop in Cancun (see thread in Carnival forum) as that really didn't define the cruise at all (except for debarkation--see below).
We flew direct to Houston from Charlotte the day of the cruise--I was glad we didn't bother w/the extra night in Galveston. We booked the airport transfer per the instructions on Carnival's website, and had a comfortable 1.25-hour ride on a charter bus. Embarkation was amazingly simple. I don't know exactly how, but we didn't stand in a line for even a second. What a contrast to debarkation.
Our stateroom (8A balcony) was very roomy, even with a child. The steward made up the couch into an extra bed for DS and he slept great every night. Our bed was very comfy--nice pillows and duvet. The bathroom had plenty of shelf space for toiletries, though we did bring hanging toiletry kits as well. We brought a pop-up mesh laundry hamper and stuck it in the bathroom which kept things much neater. One thing I wish I had brought was an inflatable tub to bathe DS. The shower is just too small for an adult to get in there w/a child.
I was glad we had a balcony, mainly b/c we traveled w/friends who stayed next door. We got the steward to unlock the privacy divider between our balconies and had "cocktail hour" out there every evening--one of the nicest parts of our cruise. We didn't bring a bungee cord to keep the door open, but you can just wedge a towel to do that. I didn't feel the balcony was any danger for DS, b/c the door was way too heavy for him to open himself and he was never out of our sight when we were out there. But I will say that we heard more noise at night b/c of the balcony. Luckily we weren't near any loud spring breakers, but we woke up every night from neighbors moving around their balcony furniture, opening/closing the balcony doors, etc. One thing I really wish we'd brought is a "white noise" clock or noisemaker.
The ship is massive! I liked it--less noticeable motion, more people of course, but it never really felt crowded except at peak buffet times in the Lido restaurant, and if you were looking for a deck chair in the sun after early morning. There were a couple of bars I never even found. The decor is very nice, colorful but not obnoxious.
We ate in the dining room all but one night and really enjoyed it. The food was for the most part very good, some was even excellent. The service was always great. We ate at the Point supper club one night and it was WELL worth the $25 pp cover charge. Wonderful food, gorgeous presentation and atmosphere, and impeccable service. The lunch buffets on Lido were pretty good--things I liked were the several nice salad choices and a pasta station. The desserts were pretty good. The breakfast buffet was the same every day and what you'd expect--I especially liked the omelets.
There were plenty of choices for activities, most of which we didn't do b/c we had DS with us. We never went to the spa, never "laid out" on deck, hardly set foot in the casino, didn't do any of the funny contests or dance classes, didn't play bingo or go to the art auctions. But we were never bored! We only went to two of the shows (Motown tribute, and final "Carnival Legends" show) and they were both a lot of fun. We went to the disco one night and it was practically empty--I'm not sure why.
OK, for your parents of young kids, I will try to give plenty of info on Camp Carnival as it was hard for me to find beforehand. DS was in the 2-5 year group. You sign up the first night, but it isn't open until the next morning. For the 2-5 age group, they issue you a beeper for the whole cruise. The staff told us there were over 600 kids of Camp Carnival age on our cruise, but in the 2-5 room there were never more than 30 at a time--which sounds like a lot, but it really wasn't--and most of the time there aren't nearly that many. They hang out in a big but comfortable playroom (they don't go outside--which is much safer and you don't have to worry about sunburns). It was well-equipped w/toys, a computer, and TV screens for the late-night "babysitting" from 10 pm - 2 am (they show videos during that whole time--we picked up DS one night at 1:15 am and he was still awake!) Other than the last night of the cruise, the kids can have dinner w/CC staff in the upper part of the Lido restaurant. Usually this is at 5:45 pm, except the two formal nights when it's at 7 pm. CC is closed for an hour or so before dinner. On port days, if you're on board, they want you to pick up your kids for lunch, but if you go into port you can leave kids at CC for lunch and until you return. On sea days, it's closed between 12 pm - 2 pm for everyone except kids UNDER 2 years old. So, for kids under 2, the only time they can use CC is 12 pm - 2 pm, and the "babysitting" time after 10 pm. On the first day, we saw a single mother of an 18-month old trying to get her daughter in--her travel agent hadn't told her of the age restrictions. I felt bad for her, but they are very strict about the minimum age, which is perfectly reasonable--you really can't expect the staff to look after younger kids at the same time.
They had plenty of planned activities (covered in the Camp Carnival Capers which you get when you sign up). The staff seemed very good. DS was reluctant to go a couple of times but he always had a lot of fun (and has been asking when if he can go back!). It was so nice to be able to drop him off and do our own thing, but so much better than leaving him at home! Camp Carnival really made our cruise a success.
In Montego Bay, we went to Rose Hall Beach Resort which was very nice. We took DS and just hung out on the beach. They also have very nice pools with a lazy river, swim-up bar, etc. Drinks (alcoholic) are included. The lunch buffet was very good with lots of choices. It's about a 30-minute bus ride which was a bit long. We didn't know about the half-hour of shopping included--someone else posted about the shopping area being scary, but I had no problem w/it.
In Grand Cayman, we did the Hell/Turtle Farm/Stingray City tour booked thru Carnival. I don't recommend this w/kids. It's a lot of time in the bus (4.5 hours total, 1/2 hour each way to and from Stingray City on a very crowded boat--only about 45 minutes in the water). Hell is nothing to write home about. The turtles were neat, but we only had a few minutes to look at them, b/c this is the only stop where you can get lunch. Each stop feels like a cattle herd w/so many tour buses coming and going. Stingray City certainly felt like a city of boats and people. It was cool to get in the water, get pictures w/the stingrays, etc. (although DS didn't want to get in the water). But I would recommend Stingray City by itself w/o the other stops, or a different excursion.
In Cozumel, we did the Atlantis Sub (w/o DS as the sub has a minimum age of 4). Pretty neat (it goes down to 100 feet in the coral reefs), but not something I'd do again for $95 pp. We really didn't see that much fish life. For some reason, the guide talked a lot more in Spanish and German (?) than in English, so we didn't learn much, either. And be forewarned, the shore excursion process on the pier is pretty disorganized. Unlike in GC, there aren't signed staging areas for all the tours. We asked a Carnival employee on the pier where to go, and she sent us to the wrong place (even after we checked w/her repeatedly). Only by walking around and finding the Atlantis person (who had already dispatched the rest of our group) were we able to get a taxi to the departure point, where they had held the boat for us.
Debarkation was an absolute nightmare, but I won't dwell on that here--I hope it was a rare occurrence because of the stop in Cancun for the tequila overdose . . . although the ship staff certainly could have handled it much better.
Overall, it was a great experience for our family and we would do it again!