We did this same cruise a few years back but this time did it with the family (5 of us total - my wife and I in our early fifties and a 19, 17 and 15 year old). It was our 4th cruise, our 3rd on Carnival (2nd on the Conquest, and the other on the Liberty, a Conquest class ship so we knew our way around). The other was on the NCL Pearl and I'll comment a bit about the differences in some sections (although only 1 cruise on NCL hardly makes it fair to compare).
Last time we sailed out of Galveston, it was our first cruise and since they said we could board until 4pm we got there in the afternoon - we spent a lot of time waiting in line to get on board. This time we arrived earlier. We live just north of Houston, left the house at 10AM, dropped our bags off with the porters, and were checked in and on board by 11:30. We did hit some lines, but they were all very quick. Having completed all documents online and tying the 2 rooms together made check-in quick.
We had 2 balcony rooms on the Upper deck, 6473 and 6469. 6473 is an L shaped room with a long balcony and we went to the purser and got the balcony divider open. We ended up with a balcony that was over 35 feet long. Since 6473 had 2 windows, while opening the partition blocked part of one window, it left the other to use and we could leave it open for the whole cruise. It also made it easy to go from room to room without going out to the main hall. We only had 2 minor complaints about the room. The first is that the bathroom door opened the wrong way. It opened into the bed but towards where you were standing, so you had to kind of maneuver around it. Inevitably though, you forgot to turn the light on so you had to close the door, turn on the light and repeat the process. The second complaint was that we did get a lot of noise from the rear lounge (Degas). They use this for Karaoke on almost all nights and while we rarely heard the singers, they did encourage the crowd to yell encouragement (which many took them up on). The other noisy night was the team rally, where they used this as a staging place for the "blue" team and a group of 30-40 stayed in the lounge singing "Love Shack" over and over. But this noise would have applied to any room over the lounge. The rooms in the aft are convenient for the Monet dining room and also easy to access the Cezanne Buffet on the Lido deck. It's a bit of a walk to the front of the ship, but easy to use either the corridors on deck 6 or going down one floor to the Promenade, both which run the length of the ship. Limited noise or vibration from the engines, although we did typically know when we getting into port. We would book the same rooms again.
Room stewards and dining
The room stewards were attentive and did their best to service the room when we were away. This is one advantage of the fixed dining time offered by Carnival versus the "anytime" dining offered by NCL. On NCL, it always seemed that the steward was cleaning the room when we wanted to use it. Of course, Carnival offers "anytime" dining and would be subject to the same challenges, but the stewards on Carnival seem to try to anticipate your plans and accommodate them.
We ate in the Monet dining room and lucked out and had a table directly in the center of the aft windows and had a magnificent view every night we ate there. Our servers were efficient, friendly and as good as any we have had. Food was good with a lot of originality and variety that satisfied even our picky eaters. The buffets were good as well, although we typically used them for breakfast and lunch. I would rate both the buffets and line management better on NCL. NCL offered a lot more variety and separated them so typically the lines were short.
Ship board activities
The Conquest had the typical set of shipboard activities. It offers 3 main pools with 4 hot tubs, with one pool and 2 hot tubs reserved for Adults. On the first day one of the main pools was closed and the remaining were jam packed. Once all of them opened and the demand dropped off, they weren't overcrowded but always relatively full. They are also salt water and the combination of factors, meant our kids did not spend a lot of time there. They added the mini gold course to the Conquest not long after we sailed on it and on the Liberty the week after we sailed so I was looking forward to it. We played a couple of times and it was fun, although pretty basic. The upper decks of the Conquest by the stacks do have some odor (kind of a sweet pungent smell) that the kids said someone told them that was from burning the trash that does get to you depending on how the wind is blowing. We also did a number of the trivia games, deck games, and filled the gaps.
The Pearl, being a brand new ship when we sailed had a lot more to offer such as rock climbing and the bowling alley and more general areas.
While the kids did some kids clubs activities, they did not do as much as when they were on the Pearl. Part of this was because our oldest was 19 and couldn't join them and partly because there were a lot of teenagers on the cruise and they formed into private groups and since our kids only wanted to come to some activities, they really didn't find it easy to make friends. Despite being a summer cruise, because the Pearl was an Alaskan cruise, there were a lot less kids on that one.
By the end of the second full day at Sea (almost 3 days counting the Embarkation day), we were ready for some excursions.
We found the evening entertainment to be a bit dated, we had seen basically the same shows on all 3 Carnival sailings and while they were OK, they were very average. The variety of talent that floods into our lives on a daily basis on TV or internet have raised the bar for what people expect for entertainment.
Excursions at ports of call
In Jamaica, we booked YS Falls and zip lining through Carnival. We were a bit concerned about it being listed as an hour and half drive. But we never estimated how bad it would be. The drive from Montego Bay to YS Falls crosses 2 sets of hills, and while the first is fairly short, the second was at least an hour on narrow winding roads. The drive was exaggerated by the driver (Peter) who liked to accelerate into the corners and then brake swiftly and then accelerate out again which flung us around and caused the bus to sway. At least half of the bus was motion sick and we had to make 3 (unscheduled) stops along the way to give riders a break. Our tour guide tried to get him to drive more consistently. But the saving grace was that we hit some rain and got stuck behind a driver that slowed us down. However, once we got to YS Falls, we had a great time on the zip line and some time at the falls. However, the time at the falls was only about 20 minutes before we had to go (2 hours total). They offered lunch nearby, for those brave enough to eat, and then we had to repeat the drive back. While we made it without stopping, everyone was thankful we got back.... I would recommend this only for the most courageous travelers as only 2 hours of fun was not worth the rest of the "adventure".
In Grand Cayman, we booked a stingray excursion directly with Moby Dick Tours. This was greatly entertaining and well managed. When we got to the sandbar, there were a lot of boats there and Mark elected to reverse the snorkeling and stingrays. The snorkeling was nearby on a reef with a fair amount of fish, coral and even some eels. The kids thought it was great once they got accustomed to it. Despite making a note to do so otherwise, we had never had them practice and learning in the open ocean is a bit more difficult. We brought our own masks and snorkels although the ones that Moby dick had available were very good quality (a lot of people just brought snorkels). We then went over to the stingrays. We had plenty of squid to feed, the guides made sure everyone got to feed, hold and kiss the stingrays. This was our favorite excursion overall. Afterwards, on the recommendation from the tour owner, we stopped at restaurant called Rack 'Em for lunch which was about half a block from the cruise terminal. Although a bit pricey, the food was very good and they offered a ladder down into the bay where we did some more snorkeling. We saw a lot of sea life and enjoyed it almost as much, if not more than the snorkeling at the reef.
Finally in Cozumel we elected to do a speed boat and beach escape offered via Cozumel water sports. The tour in a bit out of the way at the north end of island. They provide taxi service both ways rather than corral everyone on to a bus. The location before and after the power boats had a pool, volleyball, and other activities to keep you busy. We had a good time on the boats. We spent at least an hour in the boats, with a stop in the middle at a secluded beach to swim and snorkel (although not as much to see as in Grand Cayman). Afterwards, they provided lunch with chicken fajitas. The place was in good shape (although they could use a new deck) and for someone just looking for some fun on a budget, it served the purpose.
Sailing in the middle of summer has its consequences. It was hot! There were a couple of tropical areas that popped up the week before we left and despite forecasts of showers on all 3 days in port, we had great but very hot weather. Despite applying sunscreen, we all got too much sun.
We did the self embark, since we were ready to go and would have been one of the last groups if we had not. It went relatively smoothly although they seemed a bit disorganized about the elevators. Many people ended up taking elevators up so they could go down to the lobby. The lines at immigration and customs were short. Many of those on board were from Texas and we noticed a lot less bags in the waiting area than on previous cruises so I suspect many of the guests used the self disembark. We were off the ship and on our way home by 8am.
We are all ready to go again!!!!