This year's summer vacation was on the Conquest. My wife, daughter (9) and son(7) packed up and drove down to the Houston area on Saturday morning before the cruise. We have family in the area and decided to stay downtown. This was a good place to leave from in the morning. Galveston is no more than an hour away and we had plenty of time for breakfast, church, and a last minute review of the clothes and items we were bringing.
Arrival: We arrived in Galveston at about 1:00PM, parked at the Lighthouse secured lot and took their shuttle to the cruise terminal. 1:00 may be a tad late to avoid the long lines to board the ship. Our wait was nearly 2 hours as we got on the ship close to 3:00. We had time to go to our room. Dump the things we had carried on, and head out to the deck for a bit before the muster drill.
The Ship: The ship is nice, although you can tell that it is beginning to age a bit. There were small maintenance issues here and there throughout. We had an elevator near us out of service for the entire trip. There were missing treads on some of the steps on the lido deck, making them very slippery when wet. Our cabin curtains did not stay on their track and were difficult to close (not that we really every wanted them closed). The ship seemed very large at first but by the end of the trip was more comfortable.
Cabin: Our cabin was on the Spa deck (11) and I couldn't be happier with it. The last cruise I had been on was with Norwegian Cruise Line and we had an interior cabin on a lower deck. I felt claustrophobic the entire trip. My fear for the Conquest was that the room would be too small for the 4 of us. It was not. It was tight, but I never felt uncomfortable. The LARGE window really helped, plus the cabin was quite large. Our King sized bed and a twin fit nicely with room to walk about. The 4th sleeping spot came from the ceiling and was set up each night for us. The kids were thrilled with the "bunk beds." The Spa deck is quiet and we really enjoyed our views from 11 decks up.
Entertainment: There is plenty to do on board for most people. The Lido deck was probably our most visited. We spent a lot of time at the pools and slide during the 2 days at sea. I did hit the casino on one occasion but stuck to the easy games and left with just about everything I came with. I am not a big gambler and only did this primarily out of curiosity. The evening entertainment was very hit or miss, but mostly miss. WE tried to sit through one of the review shows, but the music and dancing were cruise ship corny. The musicians on board were pretty good with the exception of the singing from the jazz guitarist and the guy in the piano bar. One of the big acts was the magic show, but the magician missed their flight and they filled it with more dancing from the ship dancers. We didn't bother. The juggler and comic were pretty good, and it was the only real family entertainment event that I would recommend.
Camp Carnival: This was just OK in my opinion. The kids had fun sometimes and really dreaded it others. We left it up to them when they went and participated. The activities seemed pretty good to us parents, but the kids were only sorta impressed. The staff was friendly and helpful to answer questions. The late night party for the kids was the only real complaint here. It cost and extra $26 for my daughter and was supposed to last from 10PM-3:30AM. Now we knew that she would never make it that late, especially after spending the day at the beach. However when I got a call at 11:30 saying she was ready to leave, I was surprised. Apparently the party was pretty boring as they were mostly watching movies and had some games that were of little interest to her. So I paid $26 for 1:30 of babysitting. Not a good value.
Jamaica: We are not excursion people. As seasoned travelers we do much better going it on our own. In Jamaica we got of the ship hopped into a cab and took the short drive to Sunset Beach resort. This place was great for the kids, affordable, and stress free. $40/person includes food, drinks and all water activities (kayaks too). The place was still going through some construction, but we enjoyed ourselves at the beach and the waterpark.
Grand Cayman: Again we went for the beach as there was little interest in long drives to a post office (Hell) or swimming with the sting rays. We grabbed a shuttle at the dock and went to a beach club along 7 Mile Beach. This was a great beach, although pretty crowded. My daughter and I did go parasailing here as well. It was pricey but we had a great time. The views of the island were well worth it.
Cozumel: Ok, so we originally were going to go to Paradise Beach after reading the reviews here. However we got into a conversation with our taxi driver about crowds and how to avoid them. He recommended a place called Mr. Sanchos. It was only about 3 kilometers down the road from Paradise so we decided to give it a shot. This was the perfect place for us. It was not too crowded, the beach was good. We had our own cabana and the service was AWESOME. Even the food was pretty good. I only wished we were in Cozumel longer to enjoy this place.
Food: This is the thing I am going to be most critical of. Overall I was happy with the quality of the food in the main dining (Monet). The Lido buffet was never very good. We only ate there on 3 occasions and were never happy with the selection, or quality. Here is my biggest complaint. On the day we were in Cozumel, we got back to the ship at about 5:30. We had a 6:00 dinner reservation in the Monet. Getting the 4 of us changed and showered from a day at the beach before 6 was not going to happen. We knew we didn't care for the buffet, but we did try the grill and pizza and it was pretty good. So we went for that option. The thing is the grill is closed for dinner (huh?). It is not available between 6-10PM. This makes NO sense to me. So we got stuck with the sub par "mexican" food in the buffet. This was frustrating for all of us.
Disembarking: 2 words of advise that paid off in a major way for us. First, carry your own bags and secondly hire a porter. Ours was the last deck called for self assist disembarking. There were nearly 1,000 people in front of us once we made our way to the terminal. Also, there were 1,000's of bags all over the place. I can only imagine the chaos that ensued when those people were set free. Easily walked off the ship, grabbed our porter, and walked passed hundreds of people waiting in line for customs. When we got into the customs line for the porters there were only 2 families in front of us. The whole experience took less than 15 minutes. We were in our car at the Lighthouse by 8AM. This was perfect for the long drive back to Dallas. I was at home by 2 that afternoon.
Overall: This will likely be our last cruise for a while if not forever. We decided that we are just not cruise people. I loved the time off the ship, but the time on the ship was too confined and regimented for my liking. Too many people all trying to do the same thing. I would have rather spent the 7 days at a resort on any one of the islands instead. There were just too many days at sea for us. The ship did its best, but unfortunately fell a little short.