My husband (42), daughter (3), and I (31) sailed on the 10-10-10 departure of Carnival Conquest for our 6-year wedding anniversary. There were good things, bad things and some so-so things. Here is a breakdown of my opinion of our cruise, just an opinion, nothing more:
Cabin: We live in Central Texas so drove down to Galveston the day of the cruise departure. We got to the terminal around 1:30, waited in line for about an hour and were able to get onto the ship and go straight to our cabin. Although we had to wait in line it went by fast and it was organized. We were in cabin 6271 - obviously an older ship - issues w/AC not cooling very much & toilet taking forever to flush but the room was clean and balcony was a nice size. Our cabin steward cleaned it twice a day and this was such a nice treat. We were very happy with cabin steward service. The only real cabin complaint I have is that my husband wanted to be able to sit on the balcony at night and read but the outside light didn't work - when we asked about it we were told the Captain controls outside lights and only turns them on in port. I can only assume there is a good reason for this so no harm done.
Food: Had early dining in Monet Room - we had a PRIVATE table! I was so happy as one of the things I dislike about cruising is having to make small talk with strangers over dinner. I know a lot of people like this aspect of cruising but just not my cup of tea so very happy with the private table with just the 3 of us - I don't know how we managed this, good luck I guess. We had dinner in the main dining about half of the time, the other times, especially Port Days when we were tired we did room service or the buffet. The buffet was not good - always really long lines and not very much variety. Breakfast buffet was the same everyday and not a lot of choices. I was disappointed in the deserts - I have a big sweet tooth that I try not to indulge very much so I was looking forward to cakes, cookies, etc. They were all HORRIBLE - just gross. I did have 3 really good deserts on board the Conquest - a piece of cake, a milkshake and a cookie from the coffee shop. I paid around $3 for each plus 15% gratuity. All of the food that was included in your cruise fare was not good. We used Room Service quite a bit - all sandwich type stuff but basic enough for them to not totally screw it up and it really came in handy for continental breakfast the mornings we had Port days so we could eat while getting ready to get off the boat. Ship food is a lot like cafeteria food - bland...after 7 days all of the food starts to taste the same. To give you an idea - we stopped at a roadside DENNY'S on the way home after the cruise and it was awesome - felt like hadn't had food with flavor for days and scarfed down the entire plate.
Activities on board: This area was lacking. Not a lot going on and when there was stuff going on it was always a packed house with standing room only. We did some trivia stuff and my husband won a "medal" in an 80's name that tune game. Some stuff was just not my thing - men's hairy chest contest....ummm, no thanks. The pools are both saltwater - I'm sure there is a reason for this since you are on a ship but a nice freshwater pool would be an excellent upgrade. The pools are also located in the shade so water was cold. The hot tubs were always packed at capacity (12 people) and the water was a weird yellowish green color - but it was very popular anyways b/c it was freshwater. There is smoky casino, which didn't bother me too much but I don't smoke so an area without cigarettes would have been nice. They have seaside theater that shows movies at night on deck - I enjoyed this but people who aren't watching the movie are hanging out on the same deck drinking - they were very loud so it hard to hear the movie - I would have liked it if I could watch the same movie in my room so I could actually hear the dialogue, but this wasn't an option. The big nightly show in the main theater was bad...I mean, really BAD - something you might see way off the strip on a weeknight for half price in Vegas. I used the spa once for a facial - it was nice but imagine my dismay when the last day at sea the exact facial I got it now going for half the price of what I paid for it. Also - they up sell facial care products big time - I think if I had bought everything the aesthetician recommended it would have been close to $300. It was way too hard of a sale after a nice relaxing facial - didn't ruin it but took away from it. My advice is if you want spa treatments wait until towards the end of your cruise because the get cheaper each day of the cruise.
Kids and Cruises: I do have to give a shout out to Camp Carnival - my daughter LOVED it. We wanted to hang out with her and explore the ship but everyday she would ask to go up and play with her friends in the "kid's place". I guess they were more fun then us - They did face painting, parachute games, arts & crafts, dancing, movies, t-shirt decorating, prince and princess crown making, etc. They also provide dinner each night which gave my husband and I a break from trying to control a 3 year old through a 3 course 1.5 hour + meal in the formal dining room. I was very impressed and very happy with Camp Carnival - having this option for my daughter made up for some of the areas where the ship was lacking. It allowed her to have a fun vacation too without getting bored watching mom and dad play 80's trivia. They are open until 10PM and will baby-sit for $6 an hour until 3AM if you want/need them too. We only used the "babysitting for a fee" service once when we went to adults only comedy show - she went to a pajama party while we were at the comedy show then we picked her up afterwards. They are even open while you are in Port so if you wanted to leave your children on board while you go ashore you could. We didn't do this but after watching my daughter bored out of her mind while we toured an old Plantation in Jamaica she might have enjoyed it more playing with a bunch of other kids on the boat. She is young though - I think the older they get the less attracted to Camp Carnival they will be. But for her age group it was wonderful. They do have weird closing times - like open all morning, then closed from 12:45-2:00 and then again from 5-6, I didn't have any issues with this though, just kept a copy of the schedule with me.
Ports/Excursions: Hurricane Paula almost upset our Port Days. On Day 2 of the cruise they announced the Grand Cayman and Cozumel were going to be replaced by Key West due to a Hurricane. My hubby and I were okay with this, a little disappointed but okay. I have heard horror stores of cruises that became cruises to nowhere so I was happy they replaced a port of call. Carnival said they would refund everyone's excursions and Port fees and give 20% off next cruise (within 2 years) - Jamaica was still going to happen but they moved up everything so we would be there from 7-4 instead of 9-6. Then, to our surprise, the afternoon of day 3 (Jamaica day) they said Hurricane had moved and original itinerary was back in place. They let us keep the 20% future discount but still left Jamaica at revised time so the day was a little rushed.
A) Jamaica - we booked Carnival excursion to Rose Hall. Rose Hall is about a 30-minute shuttle ride from the cruise terminal. I enjoyed touring Rose Hall but we only stayed there for about an hour - then we were taken to 2 different "shopping stops" at very specific tourist trap stores. I didn't like this at all. I would have preferred to have the afternoon to myself to go to the beach or shop on my own - you just knew you were going to get ripped off when the guides basically line a pathway to a specific store for you and your tour group to go into. I have been to Jamaica before I had such a wonderful experience - this time didn't live up to the first one at all. However, I do want to say that it is a beautiful country and I have always felt safe. The local people were really friendly and if you stay in the main tourist areas/hotels/restaurants you'll be fine.
B) Grand Cayman - you have to take tender boats from cruise ship to land here. The water was really rough (from the Hurricane that had passed by). It was so bad they were recommending wheel chairs not even attempt it. Because of this it was taking a really long time to get people ashore. The tender boat was bobbing up and down 3-4 feet a time as people were boarding. We waited a little over an hour for a tender boat. I understand that weather is beyond control but got a little irritated b/c they came over intercom and said if you don't have Carnival excursion don't even try to get off boat until they come back on the intercom and announce that you can - basically since we didn't book excursion with Carnival we had to wait longer to go ashore than those who had booked through Carnival. We did finally get to shore though and took www.mobydicktours.com out to Stingray City. I HIGHLY recommend this tour. He was aware that tenders were taking a long time to get ashore so he waited to leave. $40 per person - great price, cheaper than cruise excursion. They give you food to feed Stingrays AND the boat was not crowded - 17 people. They provide high-end snorkel gear and the guys were all really nice. They even had fins/mask that fit my 3 year old and they were so nice to her. We anchored near a cruise ship excursion boat at stingray city and there must have been at least 60 people, if not more, on that boat. They didn't get to feed the stingrays and it looked like each person got to pet stingray once and that was it. It was nice to get such one on one interaction with the animals over and over - who were like little puppies. Although Mobydick tour guide didn't recommend it we had lunch at Margaritaville afterwards - had to give it a shot since I am a big Buffet fan - but burger was mediocre and it was expensive - 2 ice teas, 2 hamburgers w/fries & onion rings = $51. Next time I will follow their recommendation for food. I really liked Grand Cayman and wish I had more time there but had to line up to take tenders back to ship by 3 (very long line - one thing about cruising is no matter what it is there is always a very long line). Because we didn't get ashore until nearly 10 AM it was not nearly enough time to explore. Just an FYI for those who want to purchase duty free liquor. My husband likes Jim Beam - ship had liter for sale for $18 - that is about what we pay in Texas at regular liquor store. In Grand Cayman at duty free store right next to terminal price was $9.50 a bottle, plus they give you 11% off coupon so we paid around $16 for 2 liters.
C) Cozumel - We did Carnival Sail, Snorkel and Beach party. We were less than impressed, especially having just had such a wonderful snorkel experience in Grand Cayman, part of this is simply the water is calmer and nicer in Grand Cayman which is no-one's fault. The part that could have been prevented was the way the excursion was handled - we were herded like cattle and were only given 45 minutes to snorkel, which you would think would be enough time but the guides kept yelling at people and blowing whistles the WHOLE time trying to keep the group really close together - although I was right where I was supposed to be every time I heard a whistle or shout I panicked thinking something was wrong and stopped what I was doing to check - over and over and over that I was okay- annoying. The beach was beautiful - they have all kinds of things you can do - some for free, some for a cost - grab something to eat, have a drink, horseback ride, swing on a hammock, parasail, seadoo, take out a kayak, go down a waterslide, jump apparatus in ocean, etc - but they only give you 1 hour - it felt like it was over before it started. Could have probably done without snorkeling and had more time at beach. I didn't even get a chance to relax b/c I was already getting ready to leave.
Getting off the boat: I'm just ready to go and don't want to sit around and wait forever. We had slight delay b/c some names on the ship register didn't pass customs or something. They want you out of your cabin by 8:30AM (although our steward was knocking at 8AM) then they have everyone crowd onto deck 5 or 9 while you wait to get off the boat. We waited on deck 5 since you exit off of deck 3 this is what I recommend. We did self-assist departure and it is the only way to go. FYI - in Galveston the only difference between relaxed departure (where you put your bags our the night before) and self-assist (where you keep your bags the whole time) is the stairs on the ship. In Galveston if you chose relaxed departure your bags will be waiting for you right as you enter the terminal - where you still get to carry/haul them through a big long line to get to the line in customs - then from there out to your car/shuttle. Just carry them yourself, the only difference is with relaxed you don't have to carry them on ship elevators/stairs and with self-assist you do - either way you still carry them through the terminal/customs line. Also - when you first get into terminal there are porters who will take your bags and if you use them you will get to bypass the line that leads to the line to go through customs (remember what I said about lines). Between the self-assist and using the porters we saved at least 2 hours of debarkation time and were in the car ready to go at 9:30AM.
Overall Impressions: I think I would have been happier taking a flight to a Caribbean island and just staying at a hotel for 7 days. The price would have been about the same by the time everything was said and done. This is nothing against Carnival - just a personal preference. I got bored after about day 4 on the ship and the food was making me bloated and sick. Although I didn't get seasick I could constantly feel the ship moving and had a hard time sleeping b/c of it - like one big waterbed (remember those). I didn't like waiting in lines for everything from food, to a show, to a drink, to the hot tub. I also really wanted a nice bath and the mini-shower in the stateroom just isn't made for that. I think the way they nickel and dime you for everything is a shame - just build it into the price of the cruise so I don't feel like every time I turn around you want more money. That was a big turnoff - $ for this, $ for that, then they add another $210 in tips. As with all gratuities everywhere, I don't like being held accountable for someone's paycheck in such a major way, but this is how the cruise industry works so it is what it is. You can adjust the gratuities if you want to - for example they have $1 a day per person added in for bar service, $21 for the 7 days...I took this off since every time I had gotten anything from the bar they had already added 15% to the price of the drink (soda, alcohol, bottled water - didn't matter - they add 15% gratuity). Carnival does have a really good children's program and the portraits they took on board although expensive (4 8X10's for $88) were done really well. The cabins are spacious and the people who work for Carnival were all really friendly. I give Carnival a B rating.