This was our second time on the Conquest, and the crew seemed nearly entirely different, but the ship seemed just as nice. One thing that seemed different this cruise was the ratio of elderly people to young people. There were a vast quantity of senior citizens, so much so that the young woman running O2, the disco for teenagers, must have been bored out of her mind. (So keep in mind: If you want a cruise out of Galveston with very few kids - the first week in February is a good idea.) We did have some very nice dinner companions (a young woman and her mother) and we met a number of gay men in their 30s, 40s, and 50s at the "Friends of Dorothy" gatherings at a quiet wine bar. This cruise went to Key West and I think that made it much more attractive to GLBT cruisers than a cruise that heads for Jamaica.
Our room was quite nice. Spacious for a cruise ship cabin, clean and well-lit. The deck below us (Deck 1 - Riviera) seemed to smell a bit bad so I would bring an air freshener for the room. Neither housekeeping staff nor wait staff were quite as friendly as on any previous cruises, but it was still more than good enough. I think they seemed to be a bit more rushed and overworked than usual. They still did a fine job. The food in the dining room was good as usual, especially their fish dishes and cold soups. Their Lido cafeteria was variable - some days having some very nice options and others not so much. We tried The Point, their premium steakhouse, and I kind of liked it, but not entirely. I'm not comfortable with fancy restaurants, and I felt very comfortable with the friendly staff. Also, the view out the windows was very nice. The food was not fantastic though. I had filet mignon with peppercorn sauce which was fairly good. The Portobello mushroom seemed overly doused in vinegar and the cheesecake, while HUGE, wasn't especially delicious. I can't remember complaining about presentation before the caesar salad was in such an odd bowl (halfway between a gravy boat and a wide-mouthed flower vase) that it was nearly impossible to eat. What I could manage was tasty though. DBF enjoyed his food very much, and I liked it well enough that I think it would be fun to try a premium restaurant again.
The entertainment staff was mostly fine as in the past. I have a fairly big complaint about Popeye (and Sarah), one of the senior members of the staff. I'm kind of shy and he kind of ruined a good part of a day for me by insisting I participate in something when I didn't want to. It was very humiliating, and I was so angry that I really just wanted to hide in my room for the rest of the day. To be fair, I don't think Popeye meant any harm, but I did notice earlier in the cruise that he pushed a number of people (2 or 3) into participating in events when they just felt like watching, and they seemed quite cross with him for it. Again, they did a fine job overall, BUT, there was one dealer in the casino for blackjack who needs to be fired. I'm not going to mention is name here, but more than once he tried to swipe chips when the player had won and he didn't even apologize. Last year, the casino staff seemed really good about making sure the guests had fun, so the casino this year was something of a disappointment.
There were a few changes. There was no disembarkation talk. That was surprising, but it seemed like disembarkation went extremely smoothly anyhow. There were no comment cards as they are now online. That's fine for us, but I imagine a lot of the octogenarians on the ship might not have e-mail. They no longer seem to have Park West art auctions, and I thought those were fun.
One extra-good note: Winaya, the bartender at the Latour Wine Bar was very sweet and made sure we met other passengers. Our cruise was better because of him, and we noticed a lot of the senior crew enjoy their late night free time there so it's a good place for some enjoyable conversation.
The ship: still in good shape, too big for older passengers who have mobility issues and the new ship coming to Galveston will be bigger.
The staff: professional and friendly, mostly not remarkable, but quite good. The photographers were less pushy than in the past although the staff at the photo sales counter were still a bit much.
The sailing: Of all the ships I've been on, this has been by far the least rocky. A very good ship for those afraid of sea sickness. We sailed in December and February which are calmer months in the Caribbean. The Gulf of Mexico seems to be a little rockier, but not bad at all.
The entertainment: a lot of options. Some of the shows were very good including Lady Hellevi, an illusionist and aerialist. Lots of karaoke, lots of trivia.
The weather/ports: great weather every day except the last sea day. Not too hot in the Bahamas. It seems like everyone complains that the time in Key West is too short, and I agree although I think we picked the right ship as the other two boats got in later and left earlier.
The shops: good staff, a larger selection of jewelry that was both tasteful and not outrageously expensive. From previous experiences, their cheap watches are a waste of money.