I have been on 5 cruises, 1 NCL, 1 Royal Caribbean, and 3 Carnival. This was my second time on the Conquest! This is strictly my opinion and yours may differ. Here it goes:
The night before our cruise we stayed at the Harbor House hotel for the second time, the first was the night before Voyager of the Seas, December 19, 2009. It is a bit pricy, and usually you have to book it last minute but you can park your car their while you are on your trip for $30 instead of the usual $70. It is literally 5 minutes walk from the terminal and is just a few hundred feet from it. It is right on Pier 21 with a great restaurant, Olympus, right below it. Request a room on the 3rd floor, about room 306, so you can see the ship pull into port in the morning. All even numbers face the port. They have a free continental breakfast, and oversized rooms. It was a very nice 42 room hotel.
Some things will be compared to Royal Caribbean's Voyager of the Seas.
Embarkation Day: We arrived at the Terminal at 11:00 A.M. at that time people were still waiting to be picked up and go home so it was very hectic and very confusing. Most of the guys directing traffic were very rude and just pointed but never actually told you where you needed to go. This is something they must fix before the Magic comes, because their rude remarks and yelling is not a good way to start a vacation. There were a bunch of people there before us and it took a while. Try being there at 10:00- 10:30 if you can, they will not board until about 11:30 but it takes a good while to go through security, get your cards, etc.
I hate the buffet crowds the first day but there is no way around them! Carnival's buffet is always so crowded!
Debarkation at the ports: Very smooth, no problems at all. Could have been the time we got off and back on though.
We did the Behind the Fun tour. BEST PART OF THE TRIP! This tour is limited to 32 guest (two groups of 16) and they take you to the crew only areas (crew galley, crew dining room, laundry room, Captain's dining room, internet cafe, crew bar, very front of the ship, backstage of the theater, meat locker, drinks storage, environmental room,) as well as some places many of the crew never get to see (engine control room, bridge where you meet the captain) as well as the Galley's for the dining rooms. There are some nice surprises that I will not spoil for you, but you do get your money's worth! Continental Breakfast is provided before the excursion so there is no need to go to the buffet. They also have two short breaks, one for drinks and one for drinks and danishes/cookies. You must get on the ship extremely early to get a spot in this amazing tour. (Arriver at the terminal around 10:00 to 10:30) The cost is $95 per person, but you will not regret it!
Next are comparisons to Royal Caribbean's Voyager of the Seas:
Stateroom: Carnival wins, they had a bigger stateroom and it was a bit prettier.
Bathroom: Royal Caribbean wins, their bathroom was much better, Carnival's looked like a clinic, Royal's also had shower doors instead of a curtain.
Balcony: Tie, Royal Caribbean's is bigger, but Carnival's has nicer furniture. Note: Voyager, Explorer, and Adventure of the Seas are the only Royal Caribbean ships with balconies that are enclosed instead of all glass.
Food: Carnival wins, their desserts are excellent, and the fruit punch, lemonade, and mango (all are non-alcoholic special drinks included with a soda card) drinks are the best! Beware though, the Pizzeria advertises having about 7 varieties of Pizza, however all they usually serve is Pepperoni. Although Royal Caribbean's breads were much better (fresh too) and they also had a much larger buffet selection.
Entertainment: Royal Caribbean all the way, the ice show was phenomenal, the parade fun, and the Main Theater Show great. Carnival's "entertainment" consisted of girls wearing skimpy bathing suits (think thongs) and doing provocative dances to songs about making love while lights and glittery sets distracted guest from the fact that there really was nothing to the show. Pitiful. Also the dancers were extremely snotty when we saw them around and acted like they were better than us. (May have just been that cast) The Seaside Theater however was FANTASTIC, we loved it and saw movies every night! This was our favorite feature of the ship!
Crew: Royal Caribbean, Carnival's staff might smile or say "hi" but they were never personable. Heri the bartender in the Renoir for Your Time Dining was excellent, sad to not see him! Royal Caribbean's staff always greeted you, they were always smiling and called you by name. Huge difference in moral.
Ship: Royal Caribbean, the ship was much cleaner and had many more features like a promenade, ice rink, and rock wall. The layout was much better, especially the fact that you could go eat in the Cafe Promenade for a snack instead of having to go to the buffet. Carnival's buffets were laid out terrible and jammed up easily. They also had more closed in public areas that didn't create the same open feel.
Overall: Carnival will deliver a very nice experience, they are great if you like to spend a lot of time in your stateroom as theirs are much nicer and larger than Royal's. If you also like to eat a lot Carnival has better food and they can satisfy every appetite. If you want lots of nice entertainment, a bigger open ship with more amenities with a less rowdy crows than Royal Caribbean is better for you. Both are very fun, Royal is our taste though.
Nassau: We did the Atlantis Aquaventure. I do not recommend doing anything at Atlantis. It is extremely expensive and frankly it is just not worth it. Schlitterbahn Galveston is cheaper and much better, it would be cheaper to go the day before your cruise and get a hotel room and spend the day at Schlitterbahn. Two nights in a room and a day at the park is much cheaper than Atlantis was. We payed $600 for 3 people for 5 hours at the Hotel. Each ride had a wait of at least 45 minutes up to over an hour. It was very crowded and the food was so so. This hotel is very overrated and is nothing like what you see in the commercials on TV. I say keep the money in your pocket and save it for a rainy day... or a week of rainy days.
Freeport: We went to the beach and shopping, the beach had seaweed on it as well as the water but it was still a nice time. There was free lemonade and tea and you could use the resorts pool and they had a nice water slide for the kids. I heard the snorkeling is the best thing to do in Freeport, but I would recommend this excursion.
Key West: This was our favorite port, we went on our own, everything you would want to see is within a 20-30 minute walk. We went to the Hemingway House, it was very cool to see and hear all about it! There are many cats (46 when we were there) many with 6 toes per paw so this is not the place to go if your allergic to cats! I suggest going early because it was getting pretty busy by the time we left. We went and got our picture at the Southernmost point of the U.S. it was cool. The Blonde Giraffe was what was recommended for Key Lime Pie. They have 7 locations in Key West. They had amazing Key Lime Pies and Key Lime Sorbet, highly recommend! We went to the original Margaritaville, it was cool but crowded. Key West is a nice little town that you are sure to enjoy.
We had a very nice time and I hope this long review has helped you! :)