I will start out by saying that I have been on 2 other cruises before this one. In 1990 I went on the S.S Norway - NCL, and in 2001 my husband and I went on Monarch of the Seas - Royal Caribbean. My comparison will be mostly between Royal and Carnival.
Embarking the ship - This process was not as bad as I had read about. It was a little tedious. Filling out the FunPass ahead of time really helped the process go by quickly. First you go through the FunPass line, then you proceed to some tables where they give you your boarding pass. Then you sit in some yellow chairs until they call you to proceed to the next room to sit in more yellow chairs. Then your row is called and you get your picture taken and then finally board the ship. It really didn't take that long. Besides you're on vacation so what's the hurry right?
The Food - I very much enjoyed all of the different choices where food was concerned. The main dining rooms had open seating for breakfast and lunch and then the main and late seating for dinner. We had the main sitting in the Renoir dining room - 6:15 P.M. The dining room was beautiful. This was an area where my husband and I noticed a difference. Our waiter and assistant waiter on Royal were very friendly and went out of their way to get to know us. They also knew after the first evening what we liked to drink and we didn't have to ask again after that. On the Conquest dinner seemed a little rushed and for the first few days our waiter and assistant waiter were all business. We joked with them and finally they warmed up to us. Your other choices for meals were: Restaurant Cezanne on deck 9 - Lido deck. This is a buffet and the food was very good here as well. They also have a 24 hour pizzeria, Paul's Deli, Sur Mer, Po's Wok, and the grille where you can get hamburgers and things of that nature. On Deck 5 - Promenade Deck - they had a Sushi Bar and Cafe Fans. Cafe Fans was like a Starbucks. They have great Iced mochaccino. I highly recommend Sur Mer for lunch. It is a fish and chips place and they had wonderful food. Over all the food was very good.
The Entertainment - For us the entertainment was okay. We were not impressed with the Las Vegas style show that they had so we only saw the first one. It was Formidable. We enjoyed very much the R&B singer that they had. The passenger talent show was a riot. We went to their game show trivia and our friend won a bottle of champagne. We did not like the fact that they had bingo in the Toulouse Loutrec Lounge about 5 times or more a day. They used it as a filler. We expected more activities throughout the day. We also expected that since these are called "Fun Ships" there would be an extra amount of fun things to do.
The Ports of Call - Montego Bay - We did not really like Montego Bay. Jamaica itself is a beautiful Island, but we don't prefer to be hassled on vacation. We booked the Highlights and Shopping Tour through the ship. We are glad that we did because we felt a little safer with guides. The excursion itself was okay but we enjoyed the guides. They took us to the main shops as well as to the craft market. My favorite part of shopping on vacation is seeing the local arts and crafts. However, the people in MoBay are very pushy and it gets very irritating. It is also irritating to have someone offer you marijuana every few feet. I wish there was something they could do about that.
Grand Cayman - We booked an independent excursion through Captain Marvin's for the Stingray City Tour. Captain Marvin's was wonderful. They were very attentive and they made sure that everyone had a chance to pet and hold the stingrays. They gave us a reasonable amount of time to spend at the sandbar. I highly recommend using them. We also saved money. On the ship the Stingray City Tour is $49.00/person and through Captain Marvin's it is $34.00/person. Grand Cayman is also the place to buy rum if that's what you are looking for.
Cozumel - I can't say enough about Cozumel. I love Mexico. I booked independently here as well. I swam with the Dolphins at Chankanaab Marine Park. I went directly through Dolphin Discovery. I did this for two reasons. One, it was cheaper and two, it books up quickly. Through the ship this excursion is $170.00/person. Through Dolphin Discovery it is $119.00/person plus the $12.00/person entrance fee into the park. The cab ride to the park was $10.00 each way. When you add it up it was still less. Swimming with the dolphins is quite and amazing experience and worth every penny. I recommend everyone to try this once in their lives. You can also snorkel there. You can rent snorkeling gear for $6.00 or $10.00 if you want a new mouthpiece.
Overall Experience - We enjoyed our cruise. We were upgraded to an oceanview room and we probably won't get anything less the next time we cruise. We also found that we felt the rocking a lot less on the lower decks. We happened to be on deck one and you don't feel it as much. We are not against trying Carnival again however we want to try one of the newer Royal Caribbean ships.