Night Prior: We chose Quality Inn and Suites. The location was great and we enjoyed crossing the street and spending some time at the ocean. Also the Tex-Mex restaurant, Tortuga, in the hotel's parking lot was outstanding. My husband's favorite meal of the vacation. We also enjoyed the indoor pool and not worrying about sun burns prior to a sun filled cruise. They offered free parking but getting to the port was not included so we didn't take advantage of the free parking.
Embarkation: Based on the Cruise Critic boards we selected Lighthouse Parking. We were happy with their speed/efficiency and the security. We would use again. Waiting to board (We arrived at 11:30) was a little long. It took an hour to go through the lines.
Ship: Conquest. This was our first time on the Conquest. We had sailed Carnival's Fantasy twice before and RCL 2x, Celebrity 1x, and Disney Cruise Line 7x. We like the size of the conquest and the multiple pools. We've booked a guarantee Balcony. We end up on Deck 6. We were a bit concerned about being over a theatre but it ends up a very quiet cabin. We like being near the bridge and watching the officers pull us into ports. Very pleased.
Amenities: Swimming: We enjoy that there are so many pools...the adult pool option sounds good on paper, but we ended up not using it. It is usually very hot as the retractable roof was frequently closed making it uncomfortably warm. Also, when swimming, the 2 kids are usually in tow, so the adults only theme kept us away. We used the pool by the slide the most. It usually has several kids but not packed. We also use the main pool some. One of my favorite memories was swimming in the rain in the almost emply main pool while it was a bit of a "wave pool" due to winds and waves. There is also a fourth pool...a kiddie pool for the toddlers that we use once. At 5, my son is a little old for that one but it was a cute place for him to safely splash about. A plus of the Conquest...so many swimming choices. The slide was really fun but closed all but 2 days due to high wind.
Lounges: We don't utilize the lounges much. We did Karaoke 3x and it is fun. The lounge for Karaoke is over the top ritzy but a good venue. Magna, the Karaoke host is as lifeless and personality less as I've ever seen. My husband and I decided she is just enduring her job. Nevertheless, the guests all seemed to have a lot of fun. My daughter and I both ended up singing on several occasions. We end up not going dancing, etc in the other lounges.
Shows: Ugh. We caught the show on Monday, the first sea day with a 'Paris theme' and thought it was pretty bad. Also parts were very inappropriate for our 5 & 10 year old in attendance. Costumes, subject matter, so much sexual innuendo. We try again once more in the cruise with "Point and Click" it is better. Nothing to write home about but bearable use of time. We did think the two singers (male and female) were talented. We skipped all the other shows on the cruise and didn't feel we missed much.
Bands: All of the bands and entertainers around the ship were quite good! We especially liked the Pool area band. "Red, Red Wine" is still playing faintly in my ears as I type this. There were also country singers which was appropriate for a cruise out of Texas! I wish we could have fit in time to listen to the non-showroom entertainers more.
Dining Room Dining: We were in the Renoir dining room, first seating. We enjoyed our table's size and location. It was a table for 4 and near a window. Our wait team was weak. Probably the weakest (or 2nd weakest) of ANY of our 15 cruises. Service was very slow. On my birthday night we waited 45 minutes before we received even our first appetizer. This was with arriving on time for the 6 pm seating and with having 2 small children at the table. Each night, the wait team seemed to have too many tables or too many other distractions or duties to adequately care for their tables. Drinks were often forgotten. Ice tea would never arrive, etc. They did put a candle in my slice of cake and sing Happy Birthday on that evening. That was appreciated.
I enjoyed the Dining room's spa menu selections each evening as I'm very health conscious of what I eat. Recommend the spa menu selections...low fat, calories, less sodium and very tasty. Overall, the food quality in the dining room was MUCH diminished from our cruise on the Carnival fantasy last July. While I enjoyed my selections overall my husband felt his food was mediocre. The children's menu was very, very limited. Quite a disappointment. I wish there was some variety ande new choices each evening. Other lines do this better. How many times can kiddos eat chicken nuggets, pizza or PB&J during a 7 night cruise? Unhealthy and it gets "old" very quickly. Our family did enjoy a plate of fresh fruit each evening with our dinner. We normally skipped dessert although my hubby enjoyed the famous chocolate melting cake one evening. The children's Banana Split desserts were a hit.
Buffet and other dining: We ate dinner in the Cezanne buffet area 2 evenings and enjoyed the quality of the food. Very good alternative to the main dining room, especially considering the dining room's service. We also ate breakfast every morning but one in the buffet. So-So breakast. My husband loved the Sea food "fish and chips" type diner above the main buffet area. The Mongolian station was a little spicy for our taste but another option. The pizza station was good. The burger grill was always packed. Room service had a very limited menu but we enjoyed breakfast on our balcony one morning, a nice sandwich lunch one day, and wraps for dinner one evening after a full day in port. I wish there were more hot options available from room service.
Activities: For being the "Fun Ships" I had hoped for more planned activities. I think towel folding was offered once, and trivia games a couple of times. Very little structured activities during the day or evening. Disney does do this aspect much better. Fortunately, we enjoy lounging around the pool etc and "making our own fun.' We never did get to try putt-putt due to high winds closing it much of the time and long lines. The first evening there was a family dance party which was a blast. My 5 year old "won" a carnival medal for his "mad dancing skills." I wish they'd offered this every night or at least at least a couple of more times. The kids also missed seeing Fun Ship Freddy. He was everywhere last Carnival cruise and they loved him. This cruise he was MIA almost the entire week. At least my kids had the stuffed toy versions of him. I hope Carnival adds in more activities, especially family friendly activities.
Ports: WONDERFUL! Our far and away favorite was the first stop, Montego Bay, Jamaica. We took a quick taxi to all inclusive, Sunset Beach Resort. We enjoyed thoroughly the water park, slides, lazy river in the pool area. The beach area was gorgeous and we enjoyed the paddle boats and all the amenities. The grill's food and the drinks were wonderful. Grand Cayman was also fun. We did some quick shopping to pick up the famous but awkwardly named "Big Black Dick Rum." Then we taxied to 7 mile beach where we rented an umbrella and chairs. Fun in the sun with floats and building sand castles. Finally, in Cozumel we enjoyed immensely Paradise Beach and also next door's San Francisco Beach. We enjoyed the iceberg and ocean at Paradise Beach and shopping, a massage and the lovely pool at San Francisco. Great day. Weather was good at all 3 ports too. All 3 stops we did on our own. We didn't book any excursions through Carnival. All the ports were stand outs.
Spa: I did have a combo package one evening. Swedish massage, facial, reflexology and scalp massage for $129. I was a a bit disappointed. I loved the foot massage and the back massage was pretty good. The scalp massage was just quickly running some oil through your hair. The Facial was just a commercial for their products and worst of all, I broke out in little red bumps afterwards. Thankfully it went away in about 24 hours. We did enjoy the fitness center.
Passengers: We didn't witness any out of control or bawdy behavior. It was nice being on a ship filled with so many Texans. Okay, I'm partial...being from Texas. Good mix of passengers and they all seemed to be in good spirits!
Club Carnival. We were happy with the 2-5 year group old my son attended. Almost every evening there was face painting (he was the cutest little pirate) and lots of energetic activities. My son enjoyed it greatly. Carnival does a very good job with this age range. He was in the same age group last year and also had a blast. The 9-11 year old group was much weaker. Much of the time was just free time to play Wii or Playstation. It seemed they planned much of the most exciting activities after 10 pm when it was a "paid" party. My daughter enjoyed some of the structured activities but had been hoping for a bit more of the Disney Kids' Clubs quality she is used to. The kids normally participated for about 2 hours a day on average.
Cabin: We had enough storage for our family of 4 in our cabin. We greatly utilized the balcony. I spent a lot of time lounging on the balcony reading or just gazing at the rolling waves. My kids loved it too. My son spent a lot of time playing with his little cars on the balcony while my husband and I just relaxed. One of my favorite memories was playing battleship on the balcony with the kids. We also saw 5 dolphins from our balcony. That little private piece of heaven really made the trip.
Service: Spotty. Our wait team as mentioned wasn't very good. Our room steward was also very week (I won't elaborate the details) although he DID make towel animals every night. Much of the staff seemed very burned out and not friendly. On a positive note, about half of the staff seemed very enthusiastic, bubbly and customer focused. I guess it depends on which half of the staff you end up having assigned to you. I wish it had been a larger percentage but we did see many friendly faces in the crew.
Final thoughts: It wasn't a "WOW, the ship and staff are AMAZING" kind of cruise. We did however have a very good time. Currently Carnival is our 2nd favorite line after Disney, but I think our next vacation we book, it will be time to try a new line. Overall? We spent many hours swimming and ENJOYING being a family and relishing all a cruise has to offer. It was a great vacation. Sailing out of Galveston was also very convenient. Hope this long review provides some insight. Happy Sailing!