CruiseMates' Readers Cruise Reviews


Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines Monarch of the Seas Mexico January 16, 2004

Here it is finally. The cruise review/travel log of our trip aboard the Monarch of the Seas (01/16/04-01/19/04). Although I posted it shortly after a cruise on another site, it never appeared so I have decided to post it here at CruiseMates.com for others to enjoy. Keep in mind that this review is long, perhaps longer than the three-day cruise itself. I have kept the daily Compasses, so if you have any specific questions, please email me. I hope you enjoy the review.

NOTE: This review is organized into the following chapters to make navigation easier:

CHAPTER I: BACKGROUND CHAPTER II: PRECRUISE INFORMATION CHAPTER III: EMBARKATION/SAN PEDRO (LOS ANGELES) CHAPTER IV: DAY #2/ENSENADA CHAPTER V: DAY #3/AT SEA CHAPTER VI: DAY #4/DISEMBARKATION CHAPTER VII: OVERALL IMPRESSIONS

CHAPTER I: BACKGROUND

In order for you to understand where my "views" come from, let me provide a little background on who "we" are so that you know from which perspective I am writing this review. I am a 32-year-old community college professor, and my wife is a 33-year-old social worker. Although we both enjoy vacations, my wife is less enthusiastic about cruising than I am. She believes that cruising is a little too regimented (e.g., dine at this time, dine with these people, get off the ship and back on at this time, etc.), although some of this is being lessened by Personal Choice (Princess), Freestyle Cruising (NCL), and always available casual dining on Royal Caribbean. Despite the value of cruising, she sees it as a little too "cattle call" with sometimes inferior entertainment. That's not to say that she doesn't like cruising; in fact, she has enjoyed our previous four cruises. It's just that she's not as enthusiastic about it as I am. Thus, we cruise about once every three years on average, although this cruise on the Monarch of the Seas was the exception as it came only six months after our cruise aboard the Star Princess to Alaska.

Our first cruise was on the old Royal Caribbean Viking Serenade in 1994. Although it was an older, converted cargo vessel, we loved the ship and service, despite the fact that we had a bunk cabin at the time. It was only a four-day, Catalina/Ensenada cruise, but we have fond memories because it was our first cruise and because I proposed to my wife during the cruise while at Lover's Cove on Catalina Island. However, I will state that when we first got to the pier in San Pedro to board this cruise, my wife thought that the ship was quite small despite its 40,000+ GRT size. She has always been a little hesitant about cruising since we took a day cruise during which she experienced a bad case of seasickness. As a result, she is always fearful that she may experience seasickness while cruising. Fortunately, no seasickness was felt during this Viking Serenade cruise, so her first "real" cruise experience was a success.

Our second cruise was in 1996 on Carnival's Ecstasy for our honeymoon, followed by a post-cruise stay in the Florida Keys after a four day Key West/Cozumel/Playa del Carmen cruise. Although we had the highest category suite for this cruise, we were not overly impressed with Carnival's service (even by the wait staff and steward) or the food. Although I have heard that Carnival has improved, I am reluctant to try them again especially after having experienced RCI first. Carnival may be a good first cruise, but it paled in comparison to our first RCI cruise, even though the ship was twice the size and, again, my wife did not experience any seasickness. But, perhaps first cruises always hold special memories and all subsequent cruises pale in comparison. Nevertheless, I remember commenting in 1996 to my wife, "It looks like someone vomited neon," referring the 7+ deck atrium on the Ecstasy.

Our third cruise was a Mexican Riviera cruise with RCI in 2001. Overall, this cruise aboard the Rhapsody of the Seas was good, but our traveling companions were what made this cruise. This was the only time we cruised with others, and it was a blast. Service and entertainment were good, but not exceptional, and was enjoyable overall.

Our last (fourth cruise) prior to this one was aboard the Star Princess. It was a fabulous cruise and a very nice ship. We traveled aboard her from Seattle and visited Alaska. There was beautiful scenery throughout the trip. I wont bore you with the details of that trip, but if you would like to read this review I'd be happy to email a copy to you. In comparison to RCI, however, I must admit that Princess' food was better, as was the individual service. Nevertheless, I liked the dinner buffet option better on RCI, and the entertainment won on RCI hands down. Not to worry, however, as we enjoyed the food on RCI as well, just not quite as much.

Although this review is lengthy, keep in mind that you can bypass any of the non-relevant portions by simply selecting the appropriate chapter of interest. You will also note that I do not go into extreme detail regarding the layout or public spaces of the ship as many others have already done so in former reviews.

CHAPTER II: PRECRUISE INFORMATION

I booked this cruise approximately five months in advance to celebrate my proposal to my wife, which took place 10 years ago on another Royal Caribbean ship, the Viking Serenade. Although the Monarch does the same route as the Viking Serenade did, the date fell on the Sunday of this cruise, which was a sea day. Originally, we had been on the four-day option 10 years ago. In addition, I just finished my qualifying orals, meaning that I have complete all of the course work necessary for a Ph.D. in Psychology. Now, I just have to do the dissertation. Fortunately, we'll be celebrating that accomplishment next January with a Hawaiian cruise on NCL's Pride of America.

Up until the Saturday before the cruise, my wife did not know where we were going. She just knew that we were going away for the "weekend" and had requested Friday off from work. Fortunately, we both had Monday off as a holiday. Although I gave her some general guidelines to facilitate packing, she figured it out before we got there. In the end, this was probably a good thing as she had been experiencing some mild symptoms of a medical condition. Although she was concerned about being on a cruise, I reassured her that she'd actually be better off on a cruise because a doctor would be closer at hand than at any resort we could visit. In addition, we had travel insurance, which meant that she could be treated and/or evacuated from the ship if necessary. In addition, her doctor actually recommended going on the cruise thinking that it would be relaxing and knowing that a doctor was close by in the unlikely event that it was necessary.

Despite these assurances from her doctor, my wife was still hesitant about going and I offered very little in suggesting whether we should stay or go in an effort to avoid biasing her opinion. Even the night before the cruise, she was still unsure about going, but packed "just in case." She was still hesitant the morning of and although we were planning on leaving the house at 8:00A, she still hadn't committed to going. But in the end, she decided to go and we were on the road by 9:00A.

CHAPTER III: EMBARKATION/SAN PEDRO (LOS ANGELES)

We left our home at 9:00A, an hour later than planned, and stopped by the in-laws' house to drop off our four year old. He would have enjoyed the cruise, especially the all you can eat buffet, but I don't think Royal Caribbean would allow our dog to board. With our dog situated at the in-laws, we stopped by Target for some last minute medication that my wife wanted "just in case," then stopped by Starbucks and Einstein Brothers' Bagels for breakfast on the go.

Hopping back on the freeway, we headed north from northern San Diego. Fortunately, traffic was light and the border checkpoint was closed. In addition, we took the toll-road, which is a much faster alternative that bypasses part of the 405 coming to and from San Diego. Cutting over to San Pedro via the 110 freeway, we found the Port of Los Angeles World Cruise Terminal quite easily following the directions provided by my TA and also found in the cruise documents received by Royal Caribbean.

Turning into the terminal at about 11:15A, we were required to show the guard our documents and a picture ID. Fortunately, I had anticipated this and had the information ready. We were then told to proceed to the parking lot. To my surprise, however, was the fact that I did not have to prepay for parking. Instead, we received a ticket to pay for parking upon leaving. TIP: Have a credit card available to pay for parking or reserve $10 per day from your spending money to pay for parking.

Finding a spot relatively close to the terminal, I gave my wife a final opportunity to back out of taking the cruise. Deciding to "go for it," we unloaded the car, wheeled our luggage across the way, handed the one checked bag to the porter along with a tip, and proceeded into the terminal building.

Upon entering the terminal, we were required to show our cruise documents and ID again, and then were ushered up the stairs. To my surprise, the area was not at all crowded. Having our documents checked again and being asked if we had completed everything online, which we had, we were ushered over to the check-in counter. And believe it or not, there was no wait. We were immediately greeted at the counter, handed over our documents, received our cruise cards and room keys, and then were told to board.

In all, the process took 15 minutes from the car until boarding. The longest wait was for the boarding photograph, which we passed on. There was no line at the security check nor was there a line at the photo kiosk for the cruise card.

Upon boarding the ship, we were greeted by a crewmember and told that lunch was being offered in the Windjammer and that cabins would be available at 1:00P. When I asked if I could drop off my carry-on luggage, I was told that we could check if our cabin is available, but to not leave luggage in the room if the cabin door is open. However, we were told we could leave the luggage if the door was closed as it indicated that the room was ready.

Before heading to the cabin, however, my wife took the opportunity to use the restroom nearby, which gave me an opportunity to stop by Guest Relations and get a safety deposit box for the ring I was going to use for the "proposal." Although she did return before I was done at the counter, the safety deposit box had already been removed, so I was simply able to say that I was checking on something that I ordered. To my surprise, however, the safety deposit boxes are not in view, so there is no real assurance that the box actually made it into the safe with your stuff in it. You do get a key, but again, you don't actually see the box being put in the safe like you do on some other ships and at some hotels.

Seeing the soda card table, I bought the soda sticker for $15 plus $2.25 for the tip. To my surprise, the price had not been increased as we had been told that it would on the various message boards and it did not come with a tumbler. They also asked me if my wife wanted one, but I said "no" and explained that she only drinks caffeine-free Diet Coke. Although we were told that they had caffeine-free Diet Coke in cans, we later found that they were mistaken. We could only find caffeine-free regular Coke onboard.

Heading to our cabin at about noon, we found that the door was closed, meaning that it had been cleaned, and found a steward dropping off the boarding canapés that came with the Classic Romance package. He introduced himself, Dennis Charles, stated that the cabin had just been cleaned and led us inside. He shook our hands and stated that we would talk later.

For those of you who are wondering, the Classic Romance package includes champagne, canapés to enjoy upon boarding, pre-dinner canapés on the formal night, after dinner sweets after dinner on the formal night, a framed portrait, and breakfast in your cabin on the morning of your choice, except disembarkation day. At $99, I felt the package was a fair price, especially considering that the framed portrait is $20 by itself. However, in retrospect, I probably would not order the package again as I didn't really need an RCI frame, although it is nice, and because we each received a coupon for any size picture from being Crown & Anchor members. In addition, the breakfast wasn't that much better than what you can order from room service, except that it includes mimosas or bloody mary's (one each) and a selection of the following hot entrees: scrambled eggs with smoked salmon and caviar (a bit too fishy for us), Spanish omelet, or cinnamon French toast. Everything else in the breakfast part of the package (fruit and cheese plate, assorted breads, Danishes, and pastries, coffee, juice, etc.) could all be ordered from room service. In addition, some of the canapés were a little unusual for our tastes, and I'll admit that we never tried the boarding canapés as the smelled old by the time we were ready to eat them. In all honesty, the should not leave them in your room at noon since they are unrefrigerated. It seemed like a potential case of food poisoning to me.

Although we had booked a Category N mid-deck inside cabin, we were upgraded without notice to a Category I mid-deck ocean view cabin. This cabin was directly across the hall from our Category N, so I was fine with the upgrade in terms of stability. In addition, I was excited to get the free upgrade, although I'll admit that I was a little disappointed from a novelty aspect as we had an inside cabin on our first/engagement cruise.

To my surprise, the cabin was bigger than I expected, even though we had a mini-suite with balcony only six months prior. In addition, our first cruise consisted of a bunk interior cabin, so anything seems big in comparison. The and bathroom made up the entry hall, and I found the closet to have adequate long and short length hanging space, and a number of shelves to the side. In addition, the desk had four drawers on either side, and the mirrors opened on either side as well. There was also a small glass table that came in handy for storage space. I was also surprised to find three outlets in the cabin: one above the sink in the bathroom as part of the light fixture, and two more at the desk.

Of course, the bathroom was small, but adequate. We both had enough room for our bathroom bags if one used the counter under the sink. Personally, I would not consider using the over the door shoe rack as it would take up to much interior space. Of course, only one person could get ready in the bathroom at one time, but the desk provided another area to prepare.

The shower was the typical small shower, but I was surprised to find that the sprayer's height was adjustable and that it could be used as a handheld showerhead as well. Although some water did escape from the shower, it wasn't a problem as there was an additional drain in the toilet area itself. There was also a rack for the shampoo and conditioner bottles that we brought with us and a rack for the soap. There was even a little towel bar for a washrag. Although a combination of shampoo and conditioner is provided in a pump attacked to the wall, neither of us used it. Though the shower was adequate for my wife and me, neither of us could figure out how you would actually shave your legs in the shower. I guess you'd have to shave outside of the shower, perhaps resting your leg on the toilet.

Although the cabin had a porthole, it was relatively useless as you had to kneel on the bed, which also doubled as a couch during the day. However, it might be enough for someone who was claustrophobic. As a word of caution, be careful about leaning on the back of the coach. Because it folds up to make more room for when the couch is being used as a bed, it can "unfold" on you causing you to fall onto the windowsill. This happened to my wife Sunday morning and I thought that she fractured her forearm at first when the backing "gave way." Overall, we found the cabin to be relatively "roomy," clean, and well cared for.

As neither of us was hungry, we stayed in the cabin and read through the Compass and other information that was provided. I also put our carry-on in the closet and secured it using a cable bike lock I had brought with me. With the use of a padlock on the zipper, this made an adequate safe for our use as one is not provided for you.

After perusing through the information, we wondered about the ship and made our way to the buffet. As others have said, the Windjammer Jade portion is less hectic than the Windjammer itself. Just keep walking forward and you will find it.

We found the selection to be quite good and even tried on of the sandwiches from the deli and a slice of pizza from Sorrento's. I'll admit that the food was better than I anticipated, and we enjoyed the pizza and Honey Stung Chicken, both of which I would rate as good. The cheese selection was very good, as was a blueberry tart from the dessert table. I also liked that fact that beverages were readily available, including soda for those who wanted to purchase some or who had the card. On our last Princess cruise, we had to actually leave the buffet to procure soda.

After exploring the ship a bit more, we returned to our cabin to watch part of Second Hand Lions. While there, our room steward stopped by, more formally introduced himself, explained where everything was in the cabin, and handed us RCI fanny packs and Crown and Anchor Diamond coupon booklets, even though we were gold members. Although the fanny packs were nice with an embroidered logo, we had no use for them, so I took them with us to our muster station. As I suspected, I found a nice man with two children, who was more than glad to give them to his sons as he thought they might come in handy for the Sea Pass card.

Although we were assigned to muster station #9, we were ushered into Boleros rather than out on deck. And as usual, RCI checked their roster to ensure that we showed. Except for RCI, this has never happened on our other cruises. Unfortunately, the room was over packed and very hot. This was also the only time that we truly noted that the cruise was fully booked with 259 children onboard. Even during disembarkation, the ship never felt full, only during the muster drill when everyone was climbing the stairs and gathering on Deck 7. After about 15 minutes, we were allowed to return to our cabin.

My only gripe about the cabin was that it was hot. We put up with the heat for about an hour, and then finally called Guest Relations. After another hour and not hearing anything back, I called maintenance who informed us that all air conditioners on Deck 2 were down for repairs. However, we were assured that the air conditioners would be working by later that evening, and fortunately they were.

After the muster drill, we decided to enjoy one of our Diamond coupons and used the Internet as we each received a coupon for 20 free minutes. Checking my email and sending a "Hello from the High Seas" to our family, we informed our family that my wife was feeling well and that light breezes and calm seas were forecasted. However, to our surprise, we noticed a bit of swaying while leaving port.

After turning in our coupon to guest relations, we decided to head up to the Windjammer Jade for dinner. Tired from climbing up and down the stairs all day, we opted for the elevator and found a couple of younger (late teens early 20s) who were very comfortable with the motion of the ship especially since we were still in the harbor. After assuring them that it would get better, we reached the buffet only to find out that it did not open until 7:00P. Hungry, we grabbed an appetizer slice of pizza at Sorrento's, which is open until 7:00P and then again from 9:00P to 2:00A, and sat down and waited for the buffet to open.

At 7:00P, we entered Windjammer Jade, but my wife was feeling uncomfortable with the movement, so we grabbed our plates of food and returned to our cabin. Because we had a Deck 2 mid-deck cabin, the movement was much less noticeable than at the Windjammer, which is Deck 11 forward. As a result, we were able to sit on the bed and watch the second half of Second Hand Lions.

Dinner between the two of us consisted of Chicken Marasala (good), garlic mashed potatoes (very good), a selection of cheese (very good), steamed vegetables (very good), salmon (good), fruit (very good, especially since most of it was not in season), sweet and sour chicken (very good), strawberry angel food cake, and tiramisu (very good). Although I did not have any, carved leg of lamb was also available on the buffet. The only thing I noticed missing from the buffet when compared to the dinner menu was an eggplant entrée and the chilled strawberry bisque. However, later I noticed that some items were listed on the casual dining menu as "Available upon Request," so it may have been available. TIP: Read the Windjammer Jade dinner menu upon entering as some items are only available upon request.

Although I had wanted to see the Welcome Aboard Show featuring the magic of David and Kathie Haines, my wife was feeling pretty comfortable in the cabin and did not want to risk seasickness. So, we ended up staying in the cabin talking. We were also able to watch some TV as we were still getting the LA television stations. I did later watch the show on the stateroom TV and must say that the show looked a little slow paced for my liking, so I don't think we missed much.

I'll admit that I was surprised at how much movement we felt considering the light breeze, the calm seas, and the relatively slow pace at which we were traveling. Although my wife is susceptible to seasickness, she only actually felt it once during our Alaska cruise were we experienced near gale force winds and 12 to 15 foot seas on two days. Here, we had ½ to 4 foot waves, light breezes (under 10 miles per hour) and were only traveling at 12.5 knots. Having done the some route on the Viking Serenade which is much smaller, I can only conclude that the Monarch does not handle the seas as well as other ships as I tended to feel the motion to and even experienced a bit of land sickness after getting off, which is unusual for me. Nevertheless, it was not that bad and my wife did not need to take any medication for seasickness; she just chose to play it safe.

Since my wife didn't want to wonder to far away from the ship while in port because she was unsure of how she would feel, we cancelled our pre-booked winery tour and opted to get manicures instead, especially since we each had a 20% off coupon from C&A. Unfortunately, we wanted the traditional manicure for $25, but the receptionist signed us up for the $45 "exotic" manicure. When I told her that I wanted the traditional manicure, she stated that it was not available and that the posted "spa menu" was for "decoration only." If the spa menu is for decoration only, why not use a picture or post an accurate menu of services? Unwilling to spend $45 each on a manicure, we simply said "no thank you" and opted to sleep in on Saturday.

CHAPTER IV: DAY #2/ENSENADA

We slept in today until about 10:00A, although it was not a completely restful sleep as some humming could be heard in the cabin throughout the night and because the beds were really hard; of course, others would simply call them firm. Nevertheless, we did sleep in, and I got up to peak out the porthole to find that we were docked and seeing a multitude of people on the pier.

After a quick change of clothes and prepping, we headed to the Windjammer for breakfast. Fortunately, breakfast is served until 11:00A, so we enjoyed the wide selection of breakfast items that included scrambled eggs, bagels, French toast, fruit, cheese, yogurt, juice, etc. All items were good to very good, expect for the breakfast potatoes. Even though they had various breakfast potatoes and a couple of types of sausages over the three days, they were always lack luster. We were also disappointed in the omelets as there was nothing inside; it was simply folded eggs. The bacon was good, but it was difficult to find pieces that were drenched in grease, although it was a bit easier in the Jade portion of the Windjammer. We really like the oatmeal with brown sugar and raisins. Since we were not in a hurry, we sat by the windows and looked at the hillsides of Ensenada while we ate. We were also able to watch as the crew aboard the Carnival Ecstasy lowered themselves down on pulleys to wash the rear deck windows. We were also interested in the Ecstasy as were honeymooned on the ship when it was sailing out of Miami.

After breakfast, we participated in the Baggo tournament, but neither of us made it past Round 2, even though my wife was the silver medallist on our last cruise. Then, making another quick stop by our cabin, we left the ship using the gangway on Deck 1. Opting for the shuttle into town, we paid our $2 each and were taken to within a block of the main shopping district. While en route, the shuttle person tried to sell some tours and offered coupons for doing so.

Crossing over to the primary shopping street, we noticed that the street had expanded some since we had been there 10 years ago. However, we go to Mexico regularly, and really didn't see much that interested us. The only shop were made a purchase in was SARA, as they had some Lancôme products 25% off. I also know that SARA is a reputable store, having shopped at the one in Tijuana, so I felt comfortable making a purchase there.

While in the store, another shopper made a comment about the San Diego Padres as I had a Padres shirt on. When I mentioned we were from San Diego and came in on the ship, he said he was as well. Upon talking, we realized we were on the same ship and lived about 10 miles from one another. He was a bit older (late 30s/early 40s), but we hit it off immediately. This was his first cruise, and he asked if I had cruised before. I told him I had and we got to talking. He had mentioned that he and his wife would like to take their kids on a cruise, but couldn't imagine four in a cabin as small as on the Monarch. I assured him that the cabins are traditionally bigger on newer ships and discussed various options. He was also curious about the differences between the various Mexico and Caribbean ports. He also mentioned that they were having trouble with the motion and that they took Dramamine upon boarding and ended up sleeping through dinner. So I offered a number of suggestions I had gathered from the various message boards, such as taking the Dramamine before bed rather than in the morning, using Bonine, etc.

Although we shopped the entire length of the ship, we didn't buy anything but the cosmetics. However, I did note that a number of passenger were visiting the various bars and restaurants. I also noticed that Kailua was selling for $7-$8 in town, while it was selling for about $11 per bottle aboard the Monarch. Thus, it may be in your interest to buy Kailua in town if that is your thing. I also noticed that post cards ran 3 for $1.50, which I think was the same as on the ship.

Finishing our shopping loop in about two hours, we hopped on the shuttle and returned to the port at about 1:30P. However, the return tip costs half as much (only $1 per person instead of $2). Upon reaching the gate at the pier, everyone was required to show his or her Sea Pass. Once the dock guard saw our passes, the shuttle was allowed to approach the ships their.

Going through the metal detectors and having our bags x-rayed, we slid our card into the photo kiosk and I was quite impressed that the guard greeted us by name upon entering the ship and seeing our identification information on his screen.

After a visit to our cabin to drop off stuff and use the facilities, my wife decided that she wanted some ice cream, so we went to the Ben and Jerry's onboard. Initially, I was overcharged, so I had to have the purchase void and rerung as we were charged for a cone even though we got a cup. Two scoops ran $3.10 and no gratuity was added. However, my wife was a bit disgruntled that RCI referred to this as a "nominal." Although she didn't mind the price that was clearly posted, she simply felt that it exceed her definition of "nominal." I opted for a blended coffee from Seattle's Best, which ran $4 and which had a tip automatically added to the charge.

Since the ship was relatively empty, we simply sat at one of the love seats adjacent to the coffee/ice cream shop and enjoyed the time there. It was relaxing and gave us an opportunity to enjoy each other and the ship. I only wish they had a similar lounge at the bottom of the Centrum rather than only on Deck 5. Nevertheless, I enjoyed its location being by the coffee/ice cream shop and being near the rest of the shops.

After our little ice cream/coffee break, we decided to explore this ship since it was relatively empty since we were still in port. We checked out many of the lounges, including the Schooner Bar which was very popular for the NFL playoffs the following day. As a game junkie, I also checked out the arcade, which is actually in two locations, Deck 10 and Deck 11. I found the arcade to be expensive and the first two machines I used failed to give me credit for the tokens I inserted. Tokens can only be purchased through a change-type machine that only accepts cash, so parents do not need to worry that their children will spend wildly on their Sea Pass card. I was also surprised that many of the games were out of order and that there was not type of supervision in either of the arcades. For those who are interested, there is an air hockey machine in the Deck 11 arcade.

After checking out the arcade, we headed to Deck 12 to checkout the rock-climbing wall. There were three faces being used, so the lines were relatively short. For the most part, children were using the wall slightly more than adults were. I was quite impressed at the staff here as they encouraged the climbers and gave them tips to help them climb the wall. Although some were slow, the ship's staff was very patient and helpful to the climbers regardless of their age or skill.

Although we went to the Windjammer to check out the "afternoon tea," I saw no evidence of "tea" service. There was simply one buffet line offering hamburgers and some other stuff from lunch. As a result, we headed up to Sorrento's for some cookies, grabbed a soda and lemonade, and headed to the Viking Crown Lounge to enjoy the view and overlook the rock-climbing wall. While the rock-climbing wall was fun to watch, its location spoiled the view of the wake while at sea.

At about 3:30P, we headed back to our cabin by way of the dining room so that we could get a glimpse of the menu so that I could compare the offerings between the dining room and the buffet, which for the most part throughout the cruise were the same. Upon returning to the cabin, we relaxed, and then got ready for dinner and bingo, which started promptly at 5:00P as we wanted to use our C&A coupons.

Just to clarify, you DO NOT need to buy a pack of cards to use the coupons. This was not clearly stated to use when we went to redeem the coupons and probably would not have spent the $35 to play the other games had we known. Considering the cost of bingo, I felt the prizes were very small, ranging from $150 to $300 for the five games. Unfortunately, we each had only one number necessary for the coverall when someone else called bingo.

After bingo (about 5:30P), we decided to try our hand at having our pictures taken, but found that the lines to be rather long. Instead, we returned to our cabin for our pre-dinner canapés. The canapés were fair; unfortunately, we really don't care for sardines and caviar, even though we tried them on a whim. The other canapés consisted of smoked salmon on brown bread, a hard-boiled egg with caviar, and a shrimp cup which were all good. We then visited the shops for the first time, but were disappointed in the selection. In addition, we were surprised that we could not find anything for our infant niece-an infant or even a toddler t-shirt. After perusing the shops, we headed back to the photo spots as main seating dinner had started.

The lines for the photos were greatly diminished by 6:15P, and even though the signs indicate the photos are not taken between 6:30P and 7:30P, the photographers were still inviting us to pose. Thus, you may find this time the best time to have your photos taken. We opted to have four poses done, two in the Centrum on Deck 3, one at the Sculpture on Deck 4, and another against a backdrop on Deck 4.

All photos came out fairly well, and we preferred the natural Centrum poses better than the artificial backdrops. Although we didn't buy any of the 8x10 photos at $19.95, one was included as part of the Romance Package along with a silver frame with the RCI logo on it. We also each had a C&A coupon for any size photograph, so we received another 8x10 pose, and I opted for an 8x10 photo of the ship with its lights on at night. TIP: You can download a copyright permission form off the Internet to reproduce the photos, so it is much cheaper to buy only one picture than to order extras on the ship.

After photos, we headed to the buffet for dinner. The Windjammer Jade was dimly lit and was very romantic given the lighting, prompt service, natural wood tones and the fact that we had a table of two. Dinner consisted of lobster bisque (good), tempura vegetables (good), cauliflower in cheese sauce (very good), ranch steak (fair, but I had to try it to be sure), fresh mozzarella (excellent), make your own salad (excellent), sesame crusted salmon (good), fettuccini (good, but did not pale in comparison to Princess), and fresh carved pork loin (very good). Although Duck a la Orange was available, I did not opt to have it this cruise. Dessert consisted of a chocolate peanut butter tart (good) and chocolate crème éclair.

After dinner, we headed to the casino as I wanted to use the traveler's check sent by my TA to gamble with. We also had C&A coupons for slots that gave you $12 play for $10. In actuality, you simply redeem the coupon and the give you $2 each time and we each had three coupons. Thank you RCI for the free money. We ended up breaking even and played for about an hour without losing anything. We really liked the quarter coin pusher machine. Even though there is no chance of winning, it was fun to drop a few quarters in and watch whether or not they would drop.

Upon leaving the casino, we stopped by the casino bar to redeem our C&A coupon for a signature cocktail in a souvenir glass. I got a Bahama Momma and tipped the bar tender accordingly. I must say I was impressed with the quality of the souvenir glass and liked the fact that the RCI logo made up the stem as I have always been fond of the logo. With cocktail in hand, we headed to the production show called "Fast Forward," which I thought was very good, but I was a bit disappointed with the quality of the projection system. We then stayed for the Love and Marriage game, which was hilarious. The cruise director did a very good job of hosting this show and probably was the best host in all the cruises I have been on.

After the two shows, we headed for bed to find our after dinner canapés (chocolate covered strawberries). While my wife showered, I ran to Guest Relations to retrieve a diamond ring I had made for her for our 10-year engagement anniversary. The ring was designed with 14 diamonds (the number of years we had been together) that fit around another ring I had given her after we got married. Upon returning to the cabin, I placed a message in a bottle on her pillow as it was now after midnight, which she thought had been left by the room steward. Upon opening it, she saw that it said, "Would you marry me again?" and I appeared with a porcelain box that contained the ring. Originally, I had proposed in a fortune cookie while on an RCI cruise, so I felt the message in a bottle was an appropriate alternative since we were on the ship and not in port at the time. For those who are wondering, she did say "yes" once again, which is good and finally understood why I had wanted to take this cruise as she thought I was doing it as a quick get away before I started my dissertation. I also was playing up the fact that I had told friends we were going to celebrate 10 years of cruising. When she had asked about our engagement, I played it off in such a way that she thought I had forgotten or wasn't interested in celebrating it. Overall, the façade worked.

Unfortunately, falling to sleep was a bit difficult as we kept hearing the ship's structure (creaking), and a weird type of hum that I can only assume came from the engines. These were noises we never heard on Deck 2 of the Rhapsody. We also found the beds to be very hard, as I mentioned earlier. We also had a problem with the bottom sheet staying in place as it was a flat rather than fitted sheet, so it kept coming up at the corners.

CHAPTER V: DAY #3/AT SEA

We awoke on Sunday to enjoy our breakfast in the cabin, which was promptly delivered at the time requested. Although it was nice to enjoy the romance breakfast in the cabin, many of the items, except for the hot dishes and the mimosa/bloody marys, were available on the room service menu. I would also suggest skipping the scrambled eggs with salmon and caviar unless you are really into seafood. It seemed an excessive amount for the amount of eggs on the plate. Despite this fact, the romance breakfast was nice, romantic, and relaxing. It also gave us an opportunity to just hangout and watch Under the Tuscan Sun.

After breakfast and spending some time finishing the movie in our cabin, we explored the ship some more and checked out the art auction preview. Despite viewing all of the pieces, we didn't see anything of interest, but we liked Boleros and decided to stay for a drink. I got a soda using the sticker and my wife used her C&A coupon to get a virgin Pina Coloda which she enjoyed. We also spent a little more time and money in the casino. In two days of play, we ended up losing $20, but that was offset by the $12 that RCI gave us in C&A coupons for casino play. Match play coupons were also given for table games.

Needing a light snack, we headed to the Windjammer Jade and shared a hamburger (very good) and some French fries (very good). We got a table by the window and were able to enjoy the view of the open ocean. After the snack, we stopped for a Miami Vice (pina coloda on top of a strawberry daiquiri, very good) and headed for the matinee show, "Star Struck." While I like Broadway shows and songs, I only felt this performance was fair. And although the interactive projection in the show was interesting, the quality was very poor.

After the show, we went to check out afternoon tea again, but once again only saw left over lunch items. Returning to our cabin about 4:00P, we relaxed a bit and then began to pack (YUCK!). We received yellow luggage tags, which we later found would be the second to the last color called. However, luggage tags were readily available for the taking at Guest Relations, including the white tags for priority disembarkation. During packing, I watched the Voyager documentary on the TV, which was quite interesting.

At 7:00P, we headed to Windjammer Jade for dinner, but stopped by Jade first to look around. Jade seemed quite nice and a number of people were enjoying the restaurant. It was not until this night, however, that I realized that some of the items at Windjammer Jade were only available by request (e.g., grilled to order items like steak and some chilled soups). So, if eating at the buffet for dinner, make sure you check the menu when you enter.

Our final dinner in Windjammer Jade was good and we tipped some of the service staff in the buffet who had been of assistance over the weekend. Dinner included French Onion soup (good), clam chowder (very good), fresh mozzarella (very good), fresh and hot pita-like bread (excellent), Bermuda onion dressing on the salad (very good), Ranch (sirloin) steak (very good this time as I picked a good piece), and carved prime rib (very good). Unfortunately, dessert left something to be desired and I ended up having a type of shortbread cream puff. Overall, my wife felt that the desserts were not up to par and could have been better. My wife also felt that RCI needs to take their cookies out of the oven about two minutes earlier as they were a bit hard.

After dinner, we headed to Boleros for the 8:00P dulling pianos, which was enjoyable. However, if you don't get to the show promptly by 8:00P, you won't likely get a seat. Unfortunately, the farewell show let out just after the dulling pianos started, so a large number of people ended up passing through Boleros and their way to dinner. The show was enjoyable and a good way to spend some down time, but I wouldn't necessarily go out of my way to see it either. Nevertheless, it was enjoyable to see the crowd get into the show and watch the bar staff as the danced around in rhythm with the music.

From Boleros, we headed to the show lounge for the farewell show. While waiting for the show to start, I ordered by last drink of the cruise, a BBC. Unfortunately, it wasn't all that good and was a bit icy. TIP: Order your drinks at a bar before entering the show lounge. You might get better quality.

The farewell show consisted of juggling by Chuck Gunter. Now, I know juggling does not seem all that exciting, but we saw Chuck on the Rhapsody three years ago and he is quite good, and we were not disappointed with this show. As usually, the cruise director introduced Chuck and told us to "stick around" as the RCI singers and dancers have something new and special planned for us. The cruise director also presented her "top 10 silly questions" during her introduction. Unfortunately, they were the same old, sorry jokes/questions we have heard before (e.g., what time is the midnight buffet, does the crew sleep on board, does the ship generate its own power, etc.).

Although Chuck Gunter was very good, his show was not all that different from three years ago. Nevertheless, it was still enjoyable. However, afterwards, the cruise director came out, and introduced the singers who sang "Imagine." Then the dancers and cruise director's staff came out and she had everybody, including the audience, sing Auld Lange Singh. Personally, I felt it was a bit hokey.

Upon returning to our cabin after the show, we ran into our room steward who personally thanked us for his tip, which we had left in the provided envelope on the bed. We really appreciated his service, and tipped more than "recommended" as he cleaned our cabin even when we told him it wasn't necessary. For instance, we knew we were going to sleep in on Saturday, told him of this, and simply said to disregard our cabin as we didn't want to hold up his day waiting for our cabin to become available for cleaning. Nonetheless, he still cleaned our cabin before we returned to the ship from shopping in Ensenada. He also reminded us to tag our luggage and to leave it outside our cabin by midnight.

Placing some last minute items in our checked piece of luggage, we put it outside our cabin and called it a night.

CHAPTER VI: DAY #4/DISEMBARKATION

We awoke about 7:00A on this final day as we had to be out of the cabin by 8:00A. Wanting to check up on the news while getting ready, I turned on the TV only to find out that RCI had terminated all television service. In its place was a message that passengers should be out of their cabins by 8:00A. Personally, this really annoyed me and I had never seen it done on any other ship.

Leaving our cabin by 7:45A, we took our carryon to the Windjammer and grabbed breakfast. For some reason, the quality was seriously lacking, which surprised me as I would think RCI would want guests to leave with a good last impression of the ship.

While eating breakfast, the first group was called to disembark at about 8:00A, and second group at about 8:15A, and then after that announcements were stalled for 30 to 45 minutes.

Although I had paid the bill in cash the night before and had been told that I would still receive a copy of the bill the next morning, none was delivered so I decided to add up my receipts. Realizing that I had overpaid, I went to the Guest Relations desk and had to wait in line nearly 20 minutes. Unfortunately, people were walking straight up to the desk, noticeable bypassing the line, and still getting service.

Receiving a copy of my bill, I realized that I had not been credited for one of the two internet coupons that we had. When I informed the purser of this, she stated that she would have to speak to the accountant. However, rather than rectifying the matter then and there, she stated that I'd have to return in a half hour. Although the credit was eventually received, I was not impressed in how this was handled.

Because everyone had to vacate their cabins, the public restrooms became overtaxed. My wife had to go to two separate bathrooms before she could find one "appropriate" to use. All of the toilets in the first bathroom were "full" as many of the toilets weren't flushing and/or were very delayed in flushing. We also overheard some passengers report that the water had been shut off to their cabin and that they suspected it was done to "force" them out of the cabin. Because of the high volume of traffic in these bathrooms, RCI really needs to assign someone to check on them at least hourly. The bathroom I had used had not be tended to in three hours according to the signoff sheet.

Although we were assigned to the show lounge, we couldn't find a seat, so we waited until 9:30A in the Schooner Bar. I then returned to Guest Relations, received cash back for the overpayment, and we decided to hangout off to the side of the Centrum thinking our color would be called any time.

At about 10:30A, all of the barriers had been removed, but the final colors had yet to be called, so we simply walked off the ship, passing our Sea Pass card in the reader. I figured no one was there to stop us and I was getting tired of waiting.

Although we did not have passports, we were given departure cards, which greatly expedited clearing Customs. That took about 45 minutes and we were in the car and on the road by 11:15A. Be careful upon leaving, however, as there are no signs indicating where to go. If you want the 110, you'll want to cross over the street you exit on. If you want the bridge, head left out of the terminal, and then through the intersection.

CHAPTER VII: OVERALL IMPRESSIONS

I'll admit that I was pleasantly impressed with this trip. The ship, cabin, and food greatly exceeded my expectations. Although I am not one to favor the buffet, we opted for that as an alternative and found the flexibility quite enjoyable. Despite the small cabins, it felt rather "roomy" and was more than adequate for us; it would have even been comfortable for a longer cruise if necessary. I would not hesitate in recommending the Monarch of the Seas to anyone looking for a quick getaway, but would caution them about the stability of the ship. For some reason, the Monarch just did not feel as stable as other ships we have been on even though the seas were very calm. I would personally hate to be on her during a storm for fear that she would really rock.

RCI did a good job with the Monarch and provides you with a big ship feel. At this point, however, the ships are starting to look a lot alike to me as most ships now have a Centrum. I also found that although I was excited about this trip, the trip was a good length and I wasn't necessarily longing for more. I also realized that cruising more than once per year is probably a bit much for us, especially since in the past we have only cruised every two to three years. Although I will never give up cruising, we will probably alternate between a land-based vacation (my wife's preference) and a cruise vacation (my preference) as we have done in the past. Our next cruise is booked on NCL's Pride of America, but I am eager to try one of the Eagle-class ships.

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