My husband and I sailed on the Conquest July 6-13. While the staff tries very hard and the people are nice, this just wasn't the cruise experience we had hoped for.
Here's my breakdown:
EMBARKATION: This was really easy and went smoothly. We followed the advice from the boards, parked at EZ Cruise at 10:45 am on Sunday and were on the boat exploring by 11:40. The in-port staff is efficient and friendly. We had lunch at the Lido buffet, the first in a long list of sub-cafeteria level buffet meals. (If you're thinking Luby's in terms of quality, your expectations are too high.) Our bags were in our room by 1:30 and we were unpacked before the muster drill at 3:45.
CABIN: Our balcony cabin, at first glance, was fine. Plenty of storage space under the bed for our huge suitcases and in the closets and cabinets for our clothes. (Pack hangers; there are never enough) The first inkling of a problem with our cabin came just after we left port, around 6 p.m. Unbeknown to us, we were DIRECTLY over the casino bandstand. The vibrations from the bass were so loud that the glasses on our tables were jumping. Because they played late, we knew that this was an untenable situation, and kept asking to be moved to another cabin. We ultimately were, two days later, to another cabin on the 6th Floor, 6385. It was infinitely better, and the purser's staff handled everything very kindly and professionally. You DO NOT want cabin 6363 unless you are going to be out partying late every night (early morning) in which case, you'll be just fine. Really, I would avoid the 6th floor altogether if you're a light sleeper; the 7th floor seems to be ideal because it is the only one sandwiched between two "cabin-only" floors.
FOOD: As I mentioned, the food was just OK. The breakfast buffets were fine but predictable, and frankly, eating in the dining room (Monet) for breakfast wasn't much better. I did enjoy the coffee bar, but it didn't open until 7:30, which I thought was a bit late for early risers who really like their coffee! We booked dinner at The Point three nights, and while the service and ambiance were great, the food left much to be desired. My husband commented that perhaps they don't have the right grill for doing a really good steak -- he likes his medium-rare and I like mine well done, and neither of us had ours done properly the entire trip. The lobster was the spiny Caribbean variety. The wine list was good, but of course, wine isn't included in the $30/pp surcharge. As for the alternative food venues: The sushi on board wasn't really sushi -- everything was cooked before it was put into the rolls. (I think I should have expected this, since it would have been hard to keep sushi-grade fish safe onboard for that long, and it tasted fine, it just wasn't "sushi.") Meals in the dining room were fine, and our waitstaff were all anxious to help and very accommodating. Again, the food was nothing to write home about, and I kept really trying to be enthusiastic. Sur Mer is nothing special; the seafood was chewy and the fried items tasted like they had been cooked in really old grease. (The ceviche was interesting, though.) The pizza was doughy and undercooked; your options for toppings are very limited. The Chinese food counter had a good variety, but the egg rolls were soggy and the chicken undercooked.
SPA/GYM: This was definitely the high point for us. I worked out every morning early on the treadmill (you look out over the ship's wake) and we each had several spa treatments. The staff is wonderful and very helpful, and the massages, manicure, and facial I had were very good with excellent Elemis products. I enjoyed the jacuzzi in the gym as well.
PORTS: I had a work issue arise, so we skipped Jamaica. (We had each packed a lot of reading material and liked sitting out on our balcony reading.) Grand Cayman was interesting, but the shops are all very expensive. We paid some guy $10 each for a van tour and went to Hell, the Tortuga Rum factory, and Seven Mile Beach. We ended up eating at the Hard Rock because it looked safe. In Cozumel, we sped through the "mall" as expected and got to our rental car (Alamo). We went to the ruins and had lunch at Chen Rio (a nice restaurant on the beach) then did a little shopping. (We got some good deals and enjoyed the bargaining process.) The beaches are beautiful, but it was terribly hot, so we were happy to get back to the ship.
ONBOARD ACTIVITIES/SHOWS/CASINO/NIGHTLIFE: We really just wanted to relax, but tried out several of the venues. Alfred's became a favorite; there is always something interesting playing there, and they also have high tea at 3:30 on at-sea days. The piano bar is nice. The shows are pretty good; the comedian, in particular was entertaining. The shows fill up quickly, though, and one night that we went, it was standing room only The cruise director, Ralph, and his team, are excellent and very funny. Some of the onboard activities -- hairy-chest contest, etc., are a little goofy, but people seemed to enjoy them.
OVERALL ATMOSPHERE: The ship didn't seem too crowded even though it was sailing at capacity, and we didn't have to wait terribly long for elevators, etc. We had the late dinner seating and usually didn't have to wait for a table. The entire ship is extremely SMOKY -- people are smoking everywhere and you can't really get away from it. The outdoor running track is directly over The Point, so it isn't the best dining atmosphere when there is the sound of running feet trampling over your head at intervals. Of course, there are kiddos everywhere, but most that we saw were very well behaved and having fun. The pools are small, but did not seem too crowded, and there was no shortage of deck chairs, ever. I thought that the overall design of the ship was kind of gaudy.
DISEMBARKATION: This was a nightmare. We elected to hand-carry off our bags, which I still think was the right decision. We were told to meet in the theater at 6:30 am if we wanted to get off early, and this was a disaster, as everyone had bags that wouldn't fit into the crowded theater or over the cocktail tables. Then the staff put CNN on the big screen and turned the volume up as loudly as they could -- so we couldn't hear their instructions. We finally got off and made it to our car by 8:15, but I could have used an extra hour of sleep and still have bruises from trying to drag my bags through the obstacle course of the theater. (Not to mention that a lot of guests had frayed nerves and were yelling at one another, and the staff didn't seem to have a clue what to do.)
OVERALL: The staff tried really hard and the ship was very clean. I was disappointed by the food, the smoke, and the constant noise levels. I think that it must take a lot of diesel fuel to run a ship that big and, given recent increases in fuel costs, Carnival (and probably other cruise lines) have had to cut corners. Unfortunately, that showed on our trip. It wasn't terrible; it just wasn't the relaxing, carefree getaway we had hoped for.