Overview - This was our first Carnival cruise, however, we have been on close to 12+ other cruises with RCL, HAL, Princess and NCL. My wife and I are in our late 30s and have 2 young sons, 6-3. This was our 3rd cruise with the kids. Overall, I would rank this cruise in the top 5 we have taken to date and being our first Carnival cruise, we were impressed. We avoided carnival in the past because of negative things we have heard, but they turned out not to be true, at least on Conquest.
Embarkation - We usually cruised out of Miami or Ft Lauderdale given we use to live in Florida, however, we are now Texas residence so Galveston was the logical choice for us. We stayed the night before the cruise at the Hyatt Galveston which was a great hotel for the short stay. The embarkation was the easiest we have ever been through. We pulled up to the dock about 11:30, dropped off the luggage, parked the car, went through the check in lines in about 15 minutes and were on the boat about 12:30. Very seamless process and not crowded at all. Great start the vacation.
Rooms 1382 and 1384 - We picked these two rooms because they were adjoining so the kids slept in one and we slept in the other. 2 bathrooms were nice too. We were very impressed with the size of the rooms, especially the bathrooms, but didn't like being that low on the ship. We had a picture window in each room. Cabin steward was great and the rooms were kept very clean. We also noticed that we didn't have the cabin 'creaking' noises we had on some of the newer RCL ships.
Food - This is where Carnival blew RCL away, at least with the kids. We had the best main dining room staff. We did the your time dining option and from the very first night, the service was beyond excellent. They immediately acknowledged the kids when we sat down and took their orders so their food would come quickly. They entertained them when they got a little board and the hostess and maitre d established a bond with my two sons and treated them like their own. Now I understand that the wait staff is working for gratuities, but they went way beyond the call of duty to make our dinner experience excellent. I will say it's the first time I have ever sat down for dinner with my two sons and have a relaxing dinner for 7 nights in a row!! I would cruise Conquest again just for this experience. We ate breakfast and some lunches in the buffet which was also very good. Plenty to choose from and the wait staff up there were also very personable. My wife and I aren't food connoisseurs and is not an important part of our vacation, but I can say the food tasted very good to us.
Kids Club - This was a little negative for us. First, I think there were close to 1000 kids on that cruise being on a holiday so I don't know how they dealt with that kind of volume. Both of my kids didn't think very highly of it and didn't want to go back after the first day. We did send them back one other time so we could go to the gym for an hour, but I don't think they liked the second time much either. My guess is too many kids and not enough facilities and staff. I liked the fact that RCL has in room babysitting because they seemed to like that a lot more on our cruise last year and allowed us to go out later at night. Luckily, the dining room staff made it possible for our kids to eat with us which actually worked out for the best.
Ports of call - This was the first cruise that we decided to do our own excursions and we wished we had done this long ago. It was great not having to stick to a set excursion schedule. I picked out about 2-3 things that I think we would like to do on each island during breakfast each morning before we got off, we decided which one we were in the mood for. In Jamaica, we went to the Sunset beach resort which is maybe a 5 minute taxi cab ride from the port. Excellent time! Kids loved the water park. I would actually consider going there on an all inclusive vacation in the future. In Grand Cayman we went to the turtle farm and then 7 mile beach. Had a good time, it was fun holding the turtles. Just a relaxing day, noting overly exciting. In Cozumel, we went to Nochi Cocum (sp) and also had a great time. Service was excellent and the kids loved the fresh water pool. Just a note, we didn't have any reservations for any of these excursions, we just walked up and had no problem getting in. This is very unlike us, but it worked out great and we will continue to do this on future cruises. I did do some research prior to going so I had an idea on prices which were in line and sometimes less expensive when we got to the actual resorts. Ship and ship Activities - Overall, very good, although it did lack the 'WOW' factor of the newer RCL ships. The layout of the ship was a little odd too. We found ourselves having to go up to one deck to get down to another. Mainly because one of the dining rooms was in the middle of the ship. Kids activities were very good, putt putt, ping pong, etc. but the gym was a little smaller than what we were use to, however, the equipment was very new and up to date. The TV screen over the pool was amazing. Swim, sit in the Jacuzzi, watch football, who could ask for more.
Disembarkation - Again, much easier than what we are use to in Florida. They allowed us to stay in our rooms until about 8:00am and when we did make our way down to the waiting areas, they told us we could get off the ship whenever we wanted. Walked right off, got our luggage and on our way back to Dallas a little before 9:30. I think we could have been off even earlier if we wanted to, we just didn't rush it because we didn't think they would let us off. Conclusion - great cruise and again, the staff went way above the call of duty to make it great. Everyone was friendly, especially the dining room staff. We will definitely cruise Carnival again.