We drove to Galveston on Saturday and stayed at the Ramada Express. We had booked early online. The room was fine, but the hotel is definitely old. We were able to park our car there for free for the length of the cruise and then took a taxi to the dock. There were a lot of people doing the same thing and the taxis were lined up. The fare was only $5-6 because of the close proximity to the dock.
Embarkation: Because our friends were VIP's they were able to move to the front of the line for everything. We weren't able to check into the VIP room, but Carnival sent us to the non-US citizen line and we checked in with no wait. We actually beat our friends to the talk they do before they let people on the ship. As soon as our friends came over, they started letting people on the ship and we moved to the head of the line. So we were on the ship before noon.
Room: We had an oceanview guarantee on the Rivera deck. The room was spacious and in a good location, but it was also right above the doors they use for tendering and loading things onto the ship. So it was noisy in the early morning and when tendering. The room was always made up quickly when we went to dinner or in the morning, even the morning we slept in until 10:30.
Food: We originally had the early seating Monet in the upper room. It was a table for 4, but there were 5 of us. So our friends in the vacation club complained to the club and the next night we were moved to the first level table for 8 in the aft section by the windows. Oscer and Debassis were are waiters and they were excellent. Oscer did magic tricks for us and Debassis also worked the very late shift in the Cezanne where we would see him loading up breakfast dishes. He said they work 1pm-1am. The food was ok. Some things were done very well and others were not. We tried some new stuff which was nice and by the end of the week, Oscer kept telling us don't try that, or he would bring us two entrees because we were undecided. We ate all of our dinners in the dining room but only one or two breakfasts and lunches. The de chevre pizza was very good, the buffet was just ok.
Entertainment: We went to the production shows, the musical act and the juggler. They were fine but nothing outstanding. We did not see the magician or comedian. Our friends said that the acts were exactly the same as what was last year. I would hope that Carnival would rotate in case people take the same ships year after year.
Onboard Activities: This is one area that I thought the ship was not very good at. Our last cruise we would have so many things we wanted to do that we couldn't do everything. This time I was lucky if I found a couple of things a day I wanted to do. I went to the art auction a couple of times and did trivia once. But other than that, things seemed to be when we were trying to eat. I did like how they had the contest between the red, white and blue teams. That seemed to add a sense of family to the cruise.
Camp Carnival: Our daughter was in the 12-14 group. They didn't have a lot of activities, but at that age if they can make some friends, they tend to hang out with them doing nothing. She did a couple of scavenger hunts and she went to every night's dance they had.
Destinations: The weather was not on our side this trip. Jamaica was cloudy so we didn't go to Sunset Beach like we planned. We ended up hiring a driver to take us around Montego Bay to see something other than tourist shops. We stopped at a couple of roadside fruit stands and got a coconut and some native fruits. We also drove out to Rose Hill and looked at the view from there. The seas were rough and Margaritaville was closed. They stayed rough and we weren't able to tender at Cayman Islands. There were six ships and three were able to go to the alternate port but we weren't one of them. Someone was medically evacuated in the Caymans though. Cozumel was finally sunny but all we had planned there was shopping. We had to tender in Cozumel and it took 1 ½ hours after we got our sticker to get off (right under our window and 45 minutes later than they said it would take)
Disembarking: This went very well thanks to our friends in the vacation club. We did the self-assist thing and were actually the 10th people off the ship and out of customs by 7:30 am. That was welcome since we had a 7 hour drive home.
Overall Impression: If this had been our first cruise, I'm sure we would have been more impressed. But our first cruise was so good, that its hard to beat. Our friends who had been on the Conquest the year before said it wasn't as good as last years. We'll still cruise again, but I'm sure we are going to wait until our daughter is grown and we can go during the school year. One-third of the ship was kids. Most of them were well behaved but that many kids on a ship gets noisy. There were only a couple of places where under 18 wasn't allowed and that was the disco after 10pm and the casino. The public rooms are beautiful but bring a sweater, because they are cold. We also wish that they were help keep to the dress code in the dining room. I cannot tell you the number of times people in shorts and T-shirts were eating dinner. We took the time to be dressed nice, is it so hard for others to do the same. They need to go to the buffet if they don't want to dress for dinner.