EMBARKATION: We were leaving out of Galveston, and live nearby, so we just drove and parked at EZ Cruise parking. (If you make your reservation on line at www.ezcruiseparking.com its $5 cheaper.) The parking was easy to get to and the employees were great, but it was a long wait for the bus, which was not their problem. Apparently there was a problem with customs that morning, so at 12:00 noon they were still trying to get people OFF the ship. It was pretty crazy trying to get into the terminal because people were trying to get in and out at the same time. Once inside, it was about a 1-1/2 wait in line, but we took the opportunity to meet new people who we would later spend some time with on the ship. The main negative I saw was the Carnival Fun Pass. They made a big deal of getting it filled out ahead of time and how it would help speed you up, but it basically gets you nowhere. Everyone still waits in the same long line, so I see no benefit to it.
THE SHIP: Conquest is big and at first was a little confusing to get around. Once we figured out the 5th deck is the main deck with all the shops, casino, bars, etc., we could figure out where to go from there. The maps by each elevator turned out to be pretty handy. Overall the ship was very clean, and there seemed to be people cleaning at all times of the day and night. The employees were very friendly and helpful if you needed something. The pools were always clean and had fresh water every day. The pool chairs were not that hard to get if you got out there in the early part of the morning. It seemed like the good chairs were usually taken by about 11am. I went to the adult's only pool one time. They had a security guard standing to make sure no kids got in, and they did a great job of keeping out the kids. I found this pool to be a little too boring, so I spent all my time lying out by the waterslide. There was plenty of people watching, plus the band was playing in the afternoon in this area. The waterslide was fun, and it was never that crowded with kids. Both the kids and adults were on it.
STATEROOM: We were on the Lido deck and our room had a balcony. The room was always clean, we had plenty of room and storage, and I loved having the balcony. It was nice to sit in the mornings and just enjoy the peace of the sea. David was our steward, and he did a great job. We did not see him a lot; he seemed to know just the right time to get in and out of our room. I loved the towel animals every night - it was the first thing I looked for when we came in at night.DINING: We had requested the early seating, but got the 8pm seating. That turned out to be great, because we ended up making good friends with our dining companions, and we found we liked being able to take our time getting ready in the evening. Martina was our server and she was awesome. My husband is very picky, and by the second night she knew that he would only eat plain meat (whatever the beef was) with a baked potato. She was very friendly and dealt with our rowdy table very well. The food was good. I ate a lot of the seafood and veal, which was very good. FYI- the night that there is some kind of melted chocolate cake for dessert - get it! It is to die for- most of our table had seconds on that one!
ENTERTAINMENT: The first night we went to see the show. It was ok, the singers were very good, but it was nothing spectacular. The late night comedian Phat Kat was not that great. We left after about 5 minutes. He had lame jokes that I've heard from my kids. We did not go to any other shows except for the magician Deja'. I had read on other reviews that she was bad, so I wanted to see for myself. Bad is a compliment. That had to be the worst show I've ever seen. The kids next to us could see how she was doing the tricks. In my opinion she brings the quality of entertainment down. On Monday night, we found a band called Blood Power. They are four guys from the Philippines and they are absolutely incredible. We didn't miss one of their shows the rest of the week. They play a variety of music, and have an uncanny ability to sound just like AC/DC, Guns n Roses, Journey.... They are funny and entertaining. You have to see them at least once. My husband and I said we would book our next cruise on whatever ship they were playing on!
ACTIVITIES: Cruise director Todd was pretty fun. He was always smiling and upbeat, even towards the end of the cruise. One of the dancers in the shows got hurt early in the week, so Todd filled in as a dancer. He was a good sport to do it, and actually wasn't too bad! Todd assistants were also very outgoing and fun. They had the usual games - bingo, newlywed game, hairy chest, etc. but they were still fun to watch the people participate.CHILDREN'S CLUBS: We left our kids at home, so we didn't use this service. I did hear some parents comment that their kids were having so much fun they didn't want to leave the ship when in port. We were also told that our cruise had over 1,100 kids in the kids program that week. That was hard to believe, as we really didn't see an excessive amount of kids.
SHORE EXCURSIONS: We did not book anything thru the cruise ship. We had read about some places to go on cruisecritic.com, plus my husband had been to Cayman, so we already knew what we wanted to do there.
JAMAICA: We decided to go to the resort called Sunset Beach Resort, since we had read about it thru other reviews. We took a $4 cab ride to the resort. It was maybe 1 mile from the ship. (It's the 2 yellowish buildings you can see from the ship.) This was a great choice. We paid $40 per person, and the place was all-inclusive. They had a variety of things to do - lay on the beach, snorkel, kayak, paddle boat, they had 2 waterslides, a lazy river, 3 pools - one for volleyball, and then a sit down restaurant or a grill that you could order from. The alcoholic drinks were very good, but very strong. Usually they water them down in a place like this, but not here. We spent a little time everywhere, and had a great time. Getting through customs in Jamaica was a nightmare. They were unorganized and kept putting everyone into 2 lines, then 1 line, which just made people crankier.
GRAND CAYMAN: Again, we didn't book through the cruise ship. We knew we wanted to swim with the stingrays and snorkel, and then go to 7-mile beach. We got off the ship (had no problems with the tenders). We found someone offering the excursion for $40 each, so we took it. They shuttled us to the boat in a matter of minutes. We had 15 people at the most on our excursion. We were on a 2-deck boat, with 2 guides, and we got such personal attention. They provided us with water and sodas also. Swimming with the rays was incredible, and since there were so few of us, we each got as much time with the stingrays as we wanted. Other excursions had groups of people that looked crowded and not much fun - we were even more grateful for our guides. Then we went to snorkel. It was beautiful. We got about 45 minutes snorkeling. On the way back to the dock, our guide took us on a little detour so we could see some iguanas. The bus then dropped us off at the beach, and the others went back into town. 7-mile beach is the best place I've ever seen. We spent the rest of the time playing in the water and on the beach.
COZUMEL: We woke up to gray skies, which turned into rain. We had planned on shopping here and doing whatever else we felt like. We had wanted to parasail, but didn't feel comfortable going up in a lightening storm. So we walked around and shopped, took the tender back to the ship, dropped our stuff in the room, ate some lunch, and then went back on the island and looked around. The people that went on the excursions were not that thrilled since they paid a lot of money and spent the day in the rain. We were glad we had decided not to book thru the ship.
DISEMBARKATION: We chose to self-assist, which means take your own luggage off the ship. We got up, ate breakfast, and were ready to go when they called self-assist at 7am. We walked off the ship, thru customs, which took about 30 minutes, and were in our car soon after. The time from leaving the ship to being in our car was about 40 minutes. I will always take my own luggage if possible -it seemed to be much faster.
SUMMARY: Overall, I had the best vacation I've ever had. I wanted to spend my week relaxing and being able to do what I wanted, when I wanted, and I was able to do all of that and more. We made some friends that we know will be life long friends, and we had a great time. I'm already looking for my next cruise.