Booking: Be patient when booking if you have missed the early saver deals but beware that the benefits of that patience (we got $150 onboard credit) is sometimes counteracted with a downside (early seating for dinner was already all booked so we had late seating at 8:15 PM).
Embarkation: We had no problems - arrived at New Orleans Port around 11:30 (lots of traffic!) and were greeted with super happy staff checking our luggage curbside and telling us right where to go to speed up the process. The entire time from drop off, to security, to check in, and through the line to the ship took approximately 30 minutes. They are very organized to say the least!
Balcony Room: We loved our room. It was equivalent in size to any normal hotel room. We had a full size couch, coffee table, bed, TV, counter, 3 large closets (take extra hangers if you need one that has slots for fancy dresses), and a fairly large bathroom complete with shelves, counter, potty and a big shower. The balcony was also sizable and we enjoyed going out there to watch the fish jumping as the ship was sailing. Sunsets were beautiful there and it was a nice quiet get away for us.
Drinks: We saw lots of people packing on cases of water and pop - glad we didn't do that as they had to keep it with them the entire time wandering the ship until their cabin was ready that afternoon. Price of bottled water is $4.00 but the size is huge (like 2 normal size bottles of water) so we didn't feel that was out of line for the price. Alcoholic drinks were usually $7 - $9 but the drinks were large and very glamorous complete with the umbrella and fruit garnish. Most daiqiri style cups you can keep if you want to at that price. So, drink prices we felt were fairly "normal" compared to mainland. If you drank like a fish on the mainland, your bar bill would be high too. The trick is moderation.
Food: We were "stuck" with late dining that seated at 8:15 PM every night. Our waiters were excellent (we had Anil as our head waiter) and always made us feel comfortable and welcome. You want it, you get it kind of attitude. They did a short performance every night that was always entertaining. Food quality, I give a score of 8 out of 10 possible points. Some things were superb while others were average. (tip: check out the buffet on your way to the dining room to see what the food on the menu actually looks like - the same cultural food is usually on the buffet so you can preview it) I was disappointed in the chocolate melting cake everyone raved about in their reviews - it is basically hot chocolate pudding with vanilla ice cream. I was looking for it to be 'cake' and it's not.
Dress Attire: Almost anything goes on this ship. Casual to elegant was acceptable - even on formal nights. My husband is not a dresser upper and he wore black jeans, a nice shirt, a suit jacket and cowboy boots and did not feel like he was underdressed. Believe me, we saw some "formal" attire but not much!
Photo Sessions: Just do it! It's way easier to stop for a second, smile, get your photo taken, than to argue with the guy that doesn't speak English anyway - you will normally lose. There is NO obligation to buy and it does give you something to do on "slow days at sea" to go find yourself in the maze of pictures on the 4th floor. Kind of like a Where's Waldo game but you are waldo. We bought pictures from elegant night and were surprised at the price (3 pictures for $55) so ASK before you buy.
Shows: DO take in all the shows you can possibly see. They are numerous and you get the day's schedule the night before so you have plenty of time to attack your mission. The Love and Marriage game on our ship was the funniest thing, a couple had been married 61 years and they were priceless in their answers. Paul, the cruise director, and his British-style accent, was great with the delivery of his jokes and kept the crowd very entertained. We also very much enjoyed the magic show.
Casino: Remember folks, it's entertainment - you're probably not going to win a million dollars but they do have lots of fun slots and table games - all with low bets available if you choose. The free drinks in the casino are only if you reach 1,500 points... WOW! That seems to me a lot as I only had 600 points on the last day but then again, I am an entertainment gambler, and only spend what I plan to "lose". :) They also have bingo at $20 per game and slot tournaments you can join for $20.
Packing tips: #1 extension cord (a must as there are no outlets in the bathroom to curl your hair, use hairdryer, etc.) #2 an over the door shoe hanger for the bathroom door. This was the BEST tip I read on cruisecritic and was so glad I took one of these. It kept everything organized and off the vanity in the bathroom plus if the ship was rocking, nothing fell over or off the countertop, etc. #3 large ziploc bags (if you plan on a water excursion, you will want to put dry clothes in this ziploc to take with you if you plan to do shopping or dining after the excursion while in port).
Ports of Call: Jamaica...SCARY PLACE! We heard on the ship the night we left Jamaica that one of the tour buses was boarded and robbed by locals. We were offered marijuana and had lots of "in your face" locals yelling at you, grabbing you to come to their shop or their taxi, and we were not impressed at all in that side of Jamaica. We did do the Dolphin Touch tour offered by Carnival and you do get waist deep with the dolphins. Again, was glad to have read another member review that said to save your $40 of doing the dolphin swim. Those people are all the way in the water with the dolphins "watching" the show. They got to "swim" with the dolphin for about 45 seconds. Otherwise, I felt we had an equivalent interaction with them. After the dolphin excursion, we went to Doc's Cave Beach and had lunch and drinks at a cool little outside bar like what you would see in the movie "cocktail". That was the highlight of that excursion I must say.
Grand Cayman: LOVED LOVED LOVED this place. It was beautiful and such a breath of fresh air after our Jamaica experience. We took Captain Marvin's sting ray excursion and 2 snorkel stops for $51 (booked on internet site before we left on the cruise). They were awesome, on time, and very friendly. Note however that the time you are to meet them in port is LOCAL time - NOT ship time. We almost missed the excursion as we wandered down the street thinking we still had an hour until we left - WRONG - it was boarding. WHEW - very close. When back to the port area, we ate food and had drinks at Hammerheads - fun place on the beach with a beautiful view! Super atmosphere, good food, and strong drinks. But beware, their prices seem reasonable but they are in Cayman dollars, which are worth way more than US dollars. Our bill for lunch and drinks was $90 U.S.
Cozumel: Again, a fun port and felt safe there. This is a place to bargain for what you want to buy. The long walk to the shore takes you through a half mile of duty free liquor stores that give you free samples. YUM! We booked an excursion in Cozumel before leaving on our cruise. We did the Cozumel Bar Hop tour that leaves from Cozumel's only Starbucks downtown and takes you to the undeveloped side of the island to "local" bars. Those bars had the best drinks, great food, good atmosphere (all open air on the beach), local animals like parrots, etc. and the tour took us to 5 of them. Colleen was our guide and we loved every minute of this tour. Free shots were provided to us at each stop - check it out, you WILL love it if you are adventurous and like to drink. The views from the bars of the crashing waves and beaches were spectacular.
Debarkation: Again, very smoothe. We actually left the boat earlier than our assigned time. We chose the "set your bags outside your door by 10 PM the night before" option. Bags were waiting for us in terminal outside of the ship, and it took approximately 10 minutes total for our debarkation from time called to "on the street". We saw lots of people dragging their luggage around with them and thinking that would be their better option but I think if you are not in a rush, sit back and let them do the work on your "last day" of vacation.
I would definitely recommend Carnival Conquest to any cruisers. We did check out the Camp Carnival for the kids and they seemed like they had plenty of fun for the kids to do. We may end up taking our granddaughter some day so wanted to check into it.
Final thoughts: Relax. There will be lines. Relax. There will be pushy drink waiters. Relax. There will be lots of entertainment, nice people to meet, good food, delicious drinks, fun times, and most of all, excellent views! I needed this cruise to "de-tech" myself and "reconnect" with my husband of 22 years. Bon Voyage! This is only the beginning of our cruising days.