Since I live in Houston, my parents and brother flew into town and stayed with me leading up to the cruise. We were the last group to leave out of Houston, which is a nice facility. The only negative about Houston vs. Galveston that I can tell is that there are no alternative parking venues in Houston, so you are forced to pay $70 for a weeklong cruise as opposed to $50 in Galveston at Lighthouse or EZ Cruise. Not a huge deal, just a thought.
I had read that the ship was starting to show her age, but I did not agree with this. I thought she was in pretty good shape, and she will be going into drydock in January, I believe, so there won't be any issues after that for sure. I cruised the Costa Fortuna last year, and the layout is virtually the same, so I was able to get around fairly easily. Again, don't worry about those who complain about the layout. You can cross the ship entirely on several decks. You'll learn that you have to think ahead of time before going to Deck 3 or 4, but if you are flexible, you'll be fine. Anyone that complains about it is either drunk or not using their bean.
The activities on the Conquest run the gamut of anything and everything you can imagine. I'm not a big fan of the check out your sports equipment as opposed to leaving it out by the games (do people really steal cheap putters or ping pong balls?), but Carnival handled this much better than Costa. Carnival has a booth right by the main pool area which checks out all sports equipment and towels, whereas Costa made you go to the purser's desk on deck 3. I like the way Princess does it best (leaving everything out), but this isn't a bad option if theft is an issue. Anyway, the organized events were a lot of fun. I think there are activities for everyone - make sure to read the Caper that comes to your cabin the night before. Ask your room steward for copies for all cabinmates, as it seems they will otherwise just bring one. The main shows involving singers/dancers seem a little dated, but were well done. I liked all of the other shows (comedians, ventriloquist, singers).
Service on this ship was excellent. I'll cover dining and room steward service separately. I thought that a higher percentage of crew greeted you with a hello than on other lines (I've been on Princess, Royal, and Costa). It seemed like at the worst the employees did what they were supposed to do and at best went out of their ways to ensure you were satisfied. Ralph, the cruise director, is great. I hear he is leaving the ship in January. The rest of the social staff was great as well. I especially appreciated talking to the art auction staff. Even though I didn't buy anything, I was happy to learn and view the art.
Our stateroom steward did his job, but was less friendly than others I've had in the past. We had an issue with water not draining from the shower creating a swamp in the bathroom. We told our steward several times, and nothing was done. Finally, my parents went down to the purser's desk and we had a plumber in 15 minutes who solved the problem. Either the steward didn't tell anyone or it wasn't in his job description, but if he had told us to go to the purser's desk right away, we would have. He led us to believe that it would be handled, and it was not. This was really my only disappointment on the ship. He otherwise did a great job with 4 of us in the room, and provided us with towel animals most nights.
Our dining room team was outstanding. These guys worked very hard for us and did it with a smile. My brother (who somehow stays slim) eats more than most couples, and he received everything he wanted. I thought the food was very good. I don't understand those that complain about the food. I like things fairly simple, and there were always things on the menu that I wanted. I often had 2-3 appetizers, 2 desserts, and sometimes 2 entrees. Is it 5 star restaurant quality? No. But, it is everything you'd want from a nice restaurant, and really people, if you stay in an interior room you are paying less that $100 a day all inclusive. You can't expect the world. I expect a good, satisfying meal that is on par with a nice restaurant, and that is exactly what you will get. The service will certainly outperform any comparable land restaurant. As for the buffet, it was ok, but not great. Better meals are served in the dining room for dinner for sure, and arguably for lunch as well. Breakfast is probably equal at either spot. The main complaint I have about the buffet is that there are no less than 5 distinct areas with different food in them. If you want to eat all 5 (perhaps more), you have to get into 5 lines. I think it would be better to have 2-3 identical areas to avoid lines and confusion.
I've already touched on the room a bit, but I will add that an interior room was more than adequate for 4 adults. I'd much rather save the money and go on two-three cruises than get a balcony (or two separate rooms). I don't understand the fascination with windows or balconies, but to each his/her own. If I want to look outside or go outside, I'll go up a couple decks and get out of the tiny room.
I had booked an excursion to swim with the stingrays in Grand Cayman, but alas all stingray excursions were cancelled by the locals. Not Carnival's fault, but just be aware that that can happen. Got a taxi to a shopping area in Montego Bay. It is true what they say about Mo Bay - it is a horrific place to go. We went to a small (and not very good) shopping area. My brother went to the beach which he said was fine (but it was a so-so day at best). If I ever go back there again I'd either do an excursion, go to the beach (Doctor's Cave is the best one) or stay on the ship. You can't walk near the port and you can't walk outside the shopping area or you will be threatened. I'm not talking about the way it is in Mexico where they are trying to sell you stuff, I'm talking about people trying to disorient you and do God knows what with you. I experienced this myself on a short walk and according to the taxi driver, you don't want to walk around too far on your own. There may very well be very nice people there, but don't go out on your own to find them. Stay with organized tours or approved areas. Cozumel was my favorite stop. My brother and I took a taxi ($12 up to 4 people) to Paradise Beach. You can lay in the sand for free or spend $10 for a bracelet that allows you to use kayaks, snorkel gear, a bungee trampoline, climbing iceberg, and water trampolines. Well worth it when you consider renting a kayak often costs $20 for an hour. I'd go back again for sure. Disembarkation went fairly smoothly until we got to our bags. It was apparent almost immediately that someone else took my dad's bag. We spotted another bag which was exactly the same. Sure enough, some dope took the wrong bag. Now this is not Carnival's fault, but, Carnival is not equipped to handle this well. Firstly, there was no PA and Carnival did not carry a portable one to make an announcement. Likely this guy was in the customs line, but we couldn't find him. The number he left on his bag was his home number. I asked the Carnival rep if she could call Carnival and find out if this guy had a cell number on file. She said she could not. I called Carnival and was able to get this information myself (no cell on file). How is it that I could do it but the rep there could not? It was apparent that their only duty was to take a report. It was funny that when we told Carnival what happened they told us to call the number on the bag, however, Customs came over and said not to use cell phones. Perhaps Customs should at least ask passengers to verify that they have the right bags. At least put up a sign, as it is obvious that some people are too stupid to look at a tag and see if it is the right bag. As Gaylord Focker once said "Don't you think the people at Samsonite had this clever idea that in order to make a profit they made more than one black bag?" Something is amiss here. So my dad went without his bag which was on it's way to LA. It was later shipped to him by the guy while Carnival took custody of his bag theoretically until after we told them that we got our bag. Carnival handled this part of it well.
All in all a great trip with a slight miscue at the end and with the shower. I'd sail Carnival again in a heartbeat and even go on the Conquest again if the situation was right.