My wife, Joanne, and I booked this cruise with a couple of friends, Matt and Susan, just a few weeks in advance of sailing. We had an outside cabin, three cabins aft of the portside bow on B Deck. The ship seemed virtually full for the Labor Day Weekend. As an aside, my wife and I commented to our traveling frriends, who are in their early thirties, that it seemed that most of the passengers on the ship were younger than us. Their feeling was that most people were older than they were. I would say those statements accurately bracket the typical cruiser on this trip. You heard many languages spoken by the passengers, French, Spanish, German, Portuguese, etc. making for a diverse and interesting cross section of folks to people watch.
Boarding went very smoothly and security was very apparent in a comforting way. Because personnel are working hard to promptly get 6,000 peices of luggage to everyone's room, the ship's elevators were generally not available for the afternoon. From B Deck (i.e. Deck 2) up the the Windjammer Cafe and pool deck (Deck 11) was like a stairmaster session. After several round trips and the lifeboat drill, a cold adult beverage was in order. These were readily available on the upper decks to view the pleasant departure from Ft. Lauderdale.
We were in the late seating for dinner. Akin, our waiter from Turkey, took very good care of us and was happy to exchange your meal if something wasn't to your liking, (it always was). Our group wasn't the least bit shy about ordering multiple appetizers, entrees or desserts if the spirit moved us or you couldn't make up your mind. The staff was happy to oblige. We ate all the rest of our meals up in the Windjammer Cafe. The wait in the cafeteria lines was generally less than five minutes, you could dine indoors or outside on several decks and you had a wide latitude of time for your meals. As on any cruise, if for some reason, you get hungry, you just aren't paying attention!
In Key West, we walked around and shopped and also toured the Maritime Museum featuring the treasures of the Atocha which sank about 40 miles away in a storm. It was headed back to Spain in 1662 full of treasure from the New World when a hurricane put it on the bottom for the next 400 years. Mel Fisher spent about 15 years searching for the wreck and then another 15 years in court in order to keep his $400 million find. The museum is definitely worth a stop.
One of the best shows on Key West was free and took place on the harborside where you walked ashore. Some locals on the dock were tossing some bait fish into the water. I had not seen a Tarpon before, but about a half dozen of them swam at your feet and the largest was seven feet long and must have weighed 150 pounds. Seeing fish that large right at the dock was quite unexpected.
That afternoon, Joanne and I sat in the shade up at the pool, read, relaxed and listened to the band while the ship headed for Cozumel. Matt and Susan, however, headed to the BINGO game in one of the lounges and Matt rapidly became the most hated and despised man on the ship by repeatedly winning big cash and and a bag full of merchandise. For the remainder of the cruise, the BINGO crowd would point and sneer at him while he ate all the attention up with a spoon. He LOVED every minute of it!
That evening was formal night. I don't recall seeing more than a few of the men in black tie. Most wore suits and sports jackets like Matt and I did. The ladies on board generally dressed to the nines and looked great. A group of guys on vacation together from New York were seated a couple of tables away. They were feeling no pain walking around Key West earlier that day and "Formal Night" to them meant everyone wore their new white T-shirts to dinner. No jackets no ties, T-shirts were the limit of their formality. And do you know what? They were dressed in an absolutely appropriate manner and fit in wonderfully. They were comfortable and so was everyone else. I think they exemplified what is great about cruising vacations these days. You can be formal, informal, part of a non-stop party or chill in a quiet corner of the ship. A cruising vacation is anything you want to make it.
After dinner, we took in the show which was o.k but we all agreed we had seen better on other cruises and then we retired to the casino. While the ladies fed the slot machines I watched Matt play his system at the roulette wheel. No number nines fell for about an hour and Matt returned some of his BINGO winnings to the casino. I've never felt comfortable betting on roulette at sea given that the ship is gently pitching and rolling and that may bias the results of a highly balanced spinning wheel.
At midnight we went to the nightclub where the adults-only scavenger hunt would take place. Matt and Susan had been to a Royal Caribbean scavenger hunt on a prior cruise and assured us this was not to be missed. They were right. We didn't field a team but shared a seating area with a team of five women and one guy. (I'm sure he was having a great time on this trip.) Teams compete in bringing the requested items up to the cruise director to earn points. When two pairs of mens pants had to be proffered to the front, Matt was first to peel his pants off and hand them to the woman who was the team leader of the group we were sitting with. She had this shocked look on her face like no guy had ever done that to her before! Oh yeah. The one guy on their team had no choice, with this kind of pressure but to drop his trou and hand his pants over for the team to score. The game continues like that with increasingly embarassing requests. Don't miss it, even if you just go to watch. Everyone has a great laugh.
We docked in Cozumel at noon the next day. Two Carnival ships were already in port. Matt and Susan planned a shopping day in town to redeem a book full of freebie coupons they won at the "Everybody Hates Matt" BINGO tournament the previous afternoon. Joanne and I booked a snorkle, boat and booze cruise for the afternoon. We picked up the snorkle boat at the end of the pier we docked at. It was about a ten minute boatride to the snorkle site. The water had about 80 to 100 foot visibility, which is excelent. I was one of the first into the water, and after a couple of minutes, I was treated to a four foot long baracuda who glided directly under me at a distance of two feet. They are not dangerous fish. They just look nasty because it seems their mouth has about 5,000 teeth and it seems to equal half their body length. It was very cool. Saw many multi-colored fish and a bright yellow eel about two feet long who tried very hard to stay out of sight.
After about an hour of snorkeling, everyone got back on board, about fifty of us, and we partied hard at the open bar on this multi level boat. A hot lunch was also served. The crew assured us that we needn't fear drinking the sodas, water or ice on the boat as it was purified and our getting Montezumas Revenge would not do them well for future Royal Caribbean business. We ate and drank heartily with no intestinal consequences. This was a great excursion that we would do again in a minute.
The next day was spent liesurely cruising back to Ft. Lauderdale. The weather during our four day getaway was excellent and the seas gentle. Matt and I went to the cigar bar on our last night and smoked the two Cubans he bought in Cozumel the previous day. I smoke a cigar about every five years and this one was a delicious experience enjoyed with a good friend.
An excellent overall vacation. There is something magical about any cruise. The complete change of scenery, routine, etc. makes time S L O W down. A four day cruise feels like you've been gone a week. It's intensely relaxing.
The only reason I don't rate this a five, is that in January, we spent a week on the Royal Caribbean's Radiance of the Seas cruising the Southern Caribbean route. That ship was ten months old at the time versus the Monarch which is ten years old. You can see how ship designers have refined their ideas over time. The newer ships seem to have more open public areas that feel less crowded. The Radiance has a huge atrium and millions of dollars of artwork throughout the ship. The Windjammer Cafe on the Radiance has scramble stations which eliminates the need to stand in line. The Monarch is a great ship and this is a cruise you will have a wonderful time with.
Let us know when you're planning to go and we'll join you in a heartbeat.
Austin Kearney Atlanta, GA