Just returned from our 7-day Conquest cruise. I was a former Royal Caribbean cruiser and was a little concerned with Carnival's reputation as a lower quality cruise line. Unfortunately, it is a reputation that is deserving. I also have a few tips for future cruisers who may be able to use them.
The two major differences between RC and Carnival is appearance/beauty of ship and food/service quality.
The RC ships we sailed out of Miami had huge open Promenades that had soaring ceilings for nearly the length of the ship. Being a little claustrophobic, this was huge for me. I never felt like I was too closed in. The Conquest ship has a very small atrium and the remainder of the ship has really low ceilings and tight walkways so that it gets really congested when everyone is out and about. Our cabin was great. It was a Jr. Suite. At almost 2 grand a person, it was pricey, but it was really roomy and I need the extra space.
The second point of comparison where Carnival doesn't add up is food quality/service. The food is so sub-par, I actually came back without gaining any weight because I just simply did not care to consume all that was provided. It was Luby's at best. The only "to-die-for" item was a melting chocolate cake in the dining room, which we ate every single night...usually replacing the salad course and/or appetizer course.
Service was sketchy. We always had to ask for more bread, more butter, more tea. These should just appear. Often, our food sat behind us on a service table covered with a warming lid while the waiter dashed about to other tables. Maybe they need more waiters so that they can provide better service to each table because these guys were working really hard...they just had too many duties to perform them all well.
My final discontent with Carnival was with the opportunities offered for my 14 yr old son. The 16 year old son had a dedicated disco that was for his age group 24 hrs a day. They all knew where to meet up. Didn't have to consult the daily itinerary to know where to go.
The 14 year old didn't have the same deal. 12-14 year olds met at different parts of the ship for specific activities...their disco was from 9-10pm, then this bar turned into an adult area and they had to leave to go upstairs in the dining room for this or that silly organized activity.
Most of these activities were perfect for the 12 year old girls, but a kid going into high school doesn't want to hang with a kid going into middle school. The age classification was off. What they don't get is that most boys this age don't want to meet in a disco to dance or make sand art. (I kid you not) They want to play basketball and ping-pong all night, but these activities close at 6pm every night. So there is nothing for them to do but run up a HUGE bill in the video arcade. This is a program that needs some real work.
Tips: I hate cigarette smoke, and the low ceilings in all of the common spaces made this a smokey cruise ship even in non-smoking areas. I bought a gadget called an I-fan for 5 bucks at Wal Mart. I turned it on, hung it around my neck and had fresh air blowing in my face all night. I am sure I looked ridiculous, but I didn't care. Get one if you hate smoke. It will save your lungs...unfortunately your clothes will all have to be cleaned.
I also bought an insulated mug at Wal Mart called a Bubba Keg. I filled it with ice and juice in the morning and brought my own rum aboard. The ice never melted. I could have sold this thing for a hundred bucks. You don't have to keep getting up to refill your 4 oz cup provided by the ship because the ice always melted and the liquid ran out in 2 sips.
Bring on your own liquor, soda and water bottles. We brought a fifth of rum and a fifth 0f vodka, a half case of water bottles, a 12 pack of coke and a 12 pack of diet coke. We spread it out throughout several bags. No one said a thing. We asked the cabin steward to empty our mini-fridge and filled it up with our own stock. It had to have saved us a fortune in drink orders.
We filled an empty water bottle with our liquor and our Bubba Kegs with juice and didn't have to buy $6 drinks all day and night.
Excursions were SO OVERPRICED. Try to just organize it yourself if you can. Jamaica is so dangerous, we did not want to be out in the middle of nowhere, so we took a cab to Margaritaville. We had lunch and drinks and watched the kids go off the slide and play on water trampolines for a few hours. I think we may have been taken a little bit on a $16 pp shuttle van service. I would go past that service and try for a cab in EVERY city you will stop in. They get your money, put you in the van, then make you sit there while they spend 20-40 minutes trying to fill up the seats. Just find a cab.
Grand Cayman was spent at Seven Mile Beach. We got on a shuttle,(5$pp) then got off after 40 minutes of sitting there waiting til every last seat was filled, walked 2 blocks and bargained a cab to a nice beach for 10 bucks. We had already done Sting Ray City. I would have done it again, but was over-ruled by my teenage sons....
Cozumel. Book your own scuba and stuff. The cruise line is a rip off. We took a cab to a great beach for $10. Uvee Beach. Nice snorkeling, good food and drinks, hammocks, clear bottom canoes. I heard Chakanaab has a lot more to offer, but again...the teenage boys didn't want bells and whistles, just sand and surf.
Have questions? E-mail me. This was really long, but I had lots of questions when I booked. Hope I helped someone answer some of theirs. Happy Cruising.