I will attempt to refrain from the generic cruise review banter and get to the facts. I must say this cruise was highly entertaining. I am 48. A weekend 3 nighter to from LA to Ensenada, I was not expecting much. I was fully prepared for a booze cruise full of young party animals. This was not the case. My fears of riding a grog ship for the weekend was replaced with a good mix of veteran cruisers of all ages and tastes. Of course there was more than one passenger that appeared to come right out of a K-Mart.
Ship Monarch, built in 91' and renovated in the summer of 2003 showed very little wear and tear. Almost everything was new and functioning. With Norwegian officers and international crew there was no one nationality of crew that permeated. The crew's nametags had their countries on it as it always broke the ice for small talk. I am sure it gets old as my breakfast waitress from Romania always got asked if Dracula is not from Romania several times per cruise. The international feeling added to the trip, not to mention the 41 nationalities of passengers. The ship layout was interesting with all the public rooms on rear second half of the ship and the cabins on the front half. I bet the elderly people liked it. The promenade deck walking was absolutely mandatory in my book and the Monarchs was good for this. Wide long, lots of space. Very traditional and timeless. My favorite. Speaking of traditional; the ship's public address announcer was British. This added to cruises formality and made me forget this was a mass-market cruise. Her chirpy voice always caught my attention, and made me momentarily sit up straighter in my chair and walk more elegantly with my wife.
Embarkation: Smooth. Even with people carrying birth certificates. Port of LA had many layers of security both outside and in the building. They were helpful. Special porters upon arrival took bags so there were no bag piles or cages of bags around. Have a couple of bucks for the porter. At the front desk I quickly got a ship account card. It really saves time to fill out some the passenger forms on the Internet if possible.
Room. Prior Internet research gave me a warning about small staterooms. They were right. Yes, mine was small, but this is part of the cruise package I expected. The wife and I an interior stateroom. It worked out all right with one person dressing or fiddling around in the room as the other person lies on the bed and watches TV. I am sure someone must complain about these small rooms on Monarch. Being retired military I had my share of cramped barracks and my wife lived several years in dumpy dorm rooms in college so we thought the small room issue was very overrated. The cabin stewards were from the Caribbean and competent. Never a problem. The TV was small by today's standards, but so was the rest of the room. There were local stations, cable channels, movie channels and several ship channels full of either informational shows, or hawking something. Having an interior room, I particularly enjoyed the ship's camera on the stern looking forward over the top of the ship and seaward. I left that channel on and told the wife it is our window out. The bathroom was functioning with everything new. The crapper needed an extra flush sometimes.
Dinning Room The first night the dress code was poorly adhered to. I feared it was going to be this way the whole time. Baseball caps both frontward and backward. Baggy pants half way down the behind. Some guy came in looking like the Roto-Rooter man and some ladies looked like they worked at a truck stop. Thankfully I later saw them with better dressed. Some passengers were totally unprepared as seen by a dullard middle-aged man in an untucked shirt staring at us from the dinning room entrance as he took a long guzzle off a can of beer. He shook his head and left for the buffet. Too much structure for the old boy. Food was fine but not stellar, as this cruise simply does not have the budget for lobster and caviar. The food was all sophisticated and well served. Food for grown-ups. Plenty of kiddie food upstairs in the buffet for the rabble. Our waiters were constantly overseen by headwaiters that watch several tables. As an ex-waiter I approved of all the checks and balances in the dinning room. Nothing was left to mistake. The chairs and tables were comfortable. Good windows looking out to sea, but not too large. The reports of goofy singing waiters were a minimum. A couple of birthdays were about it. I knew that I could not get total refinement and decorum with all these plumbers and roto-rooter guys eating here, but it came close. The veteran cruisers frowned on the hillbillies too and most of the tank top & sandal crowd got the hint to clean themselves up. I made sure I ordered food I don't usually get at home. Lamb, Duck, prime rib, even oxtail soup. I had Kippered Herring for breakfast with onions. It gave the morning a special meaning by eating foods not normally eaten in my small lumber town. Scrambled eggs with salmon also broke the old mold of bacon and eggs. My only food complaint was Monday morning breakfast they packed us all together at one side of the dinning room for efficiency. Getting all packed into the corner, I called it quits and took the wife to the noisy buffet. Sure it was crowded in the buffet but the dinning room stunt was too much. That was only one time this happend. At dinner I got seconds on the prime rib. Double dinner appetizers of scrimp cocktail and oxtail soup. Napkins on my lap always tighten me up.
Centrum. Classy. Both the live piano player and the recorded music were the same person that banged very heavily on the keys in an irritating pounding. Barroom music. I remember my piano lessons as a young boy hearing the teacher haranguing me to soften the impact of hitting the keys to make it more pleasant. I wish this piano player had the same teacher. A first class musician, but just too heavy a hand on the ivories. No quiet tinkling mood music in the lobby. It got on everyone's nerves. Lobbies
Can't really tell where smoking was permitted. While no great violations were spotted, several people were cut off and told to light up somewhere else. Reflecting the current trend of passenger desire, the ship was very hotelish. Very little nautical feel on this ship.
Many passengers were uninformed on how to act aboard ship. Most were well intentioned, just unprepared. Many looked at it was a ferry boat ride. Underdressed and unsophisticated. Many had to shown everything how to be fed, entertained, and put to bed. Dress styles ran the gambit from posh to factory workers. One older woman looked homeless as she sat in a chair clutching her purse, in her knitted yarn sweater and pulled over wool hat. People watching got to be very interesting. It ran from fashion plates, truck stop waitress, plumbers, beachcombers and hillbillies. The children were all well behaved and supervised. Most were supervised. A few kids here and there prevents the ship from getting stodgy. There were 41 different nationalities. Entertainment
Live music was weak. No rock band. No jazz or stings. The show band seemed to lack depth. The island band with steel drums rarely played. Lots of recorded tunes played on PA or in the disco. The bars had its share of people that were hanging out and not spending any money, i.e. couch potatoes. A baby stroller parked in the smoky casino was very uncool. In Boleros lounge a middle-aged couple wanted to taste test the cognac for free. They were put off when the surprised bartender would not do it. The Sound of Music show lounge was swanky and new. However the lighted stage frame was old and worn. The lights shown irritably through the translucent plastic frame like cheap trailer park wall. A definite distraction to the entertainment. Yet, RCCL knew how to push the buttons on the passengers to get them to react positively. Different buttons for different slices of the audience. The Broadway medley was entertaining. Probably not high-end productions, but it satisfied the great masses. The show lounge was two levels, which was really cool in the dark.
Formal Night. I was suspicious on what this would entail on this cruise. Surprisingly the truck stop waitresses now had long slinky dresses on. Many guys had ties, and a few tuxes were spotted here and there. This had an effect of creating a refined ambiance on the ship. A weird post-prom night affair where normal people got dressed up and wild in a middle aged sort of way. It was a cross between a wedding reception, and prom night reunion. Anyone with a tee-shirt and sandals on was looked down on like Thurston Howell III (Gilligans Island) sneering at Alan Hale. All in fun of course. After dinner was the captain's reception in the show lounge. This was weird. This event captured the classic cruise feel. People all dressed up with drinks. The show band played Glen Millers In the Mood. People were trying to swing dance. A conga line started somehow and people got into it and it grew. Strange but entertaining. Captain Tyrm Selvag made his appearance in his white dinner jacket. A tall steely-eyed Norwegian with a trimmed beard, he reminded me of Jorgen Procnow from the Das Boot movie. That evening had good vibes. Impressive.
Ensenada Not as bad as all the stories I heard. I was expecting a rickety pier and few litter strewn open-air bars on the beach rocks. I was wrong. Very modern. A real good shopping strip too. There was a Federal tourist zone that kept the bad people out but still had enough local color that even that was too much for some people. However, bargains were fewer to spot. The price paid for the safety of the Gringo Zone. Child beggars were all Indians. Kids with gum would hawk on the sidewalks. Still not as bad as the panhandlers in Seattle. Kids would leave you alone once you said no. Mothers were always nearby. I had several street vender seafood plates. $4.00 and 4.50 seafood medleys. Made all from scratch. Very ethnic. Big pieces of seafood with even my favorite octopus tentacles hiding in there too. All fresh and tasty. I did not see much litter or pollution. The passenger shuttles were small shuttle busses for $1.50. This town has something for all ages and lifestyles. While I doddered around looking at carved wooden parrots and rugs, I could not help but think what a great place to be a 20 something again whooping it up with my pals with a beer in each hand. Ah, youth.