Monarch of the Seas
by Lisa W (Karessamom)
September 4, 2006
Cruising on the Monarch of the Seas was the highlight of our vacation that started with a trip to Reno NV for a wedding. A little bit about us—We are a family of 4—Husband is a Civil Engineer with a local firm. We have 2 children a 5 year old son and a 13 year old daughter. I am a stay at home mom. This was our 2nd cruise –kids' first. Our first cruise was last year on Carnival Conquest for our 20th wedding anniversary. We were also traveling with husbands parents booked in a cabin next to ours.
With the wedding behind us, on Sunday Sept. 3 we headed south to Los Angeles via Sacramento to pick up I-5. (we actually had 2 choices that were similar in mileage but one took a little longer on time. With I-5 being the quickest that's what we chose.)
We stayed Sunday night in Chatsworth of all places. (I say that because it's not close to the pier by any means.) Actually the stay in Chatsworth was to have dinner with my sister who lives in Granada Hills. She was unable to attend the wedding so we made it a point to stop and visit with her.
On Monday Morning, I was up bright and early—even tho we didn't have to leave all that early. It was a holiday (Labor Day) so traffic wouldn't be all that bad. My sister had told us that the pier was only about an hour away so we decided to try to leave by about 10ish. This gave me time to run next door to the Laundromat and do a couple of loads of laundry. Soon it was time to load up and check out of the hotel. We wanted to get to pier early so we could board in time for an early lunch. One advantage to arriving early is good parking. The prior group had just cleared out leaving ample good close parking.
We arrived around 11:30 or there about. We were able to drop off our luggage with the porters before driving around again to park. One thing we discovered, upon arriving about Reno we were absolutely flabbergasted with the traffic flow in Reno, sacramento (about the worst) and LA and all points in between. It wasn't the volume as much as it was the "greed" and the aggressiveness. It didn't seem to matter that there were speed limits set, construction zones or what ever else—it was drive as fast as you could then slam on brakes! We about got into a wreck in Reno because some idiot just couldn't wait for the car ahead of him to go so he tried to veer over in our lane then realized we were there so he had to dodge back into his lane and nearly missed a car. DH was already looking at that point for a place to bail and I had my phone in hand for 911. Fortunately there was NO accident. My opinion is that if people just slowed down a little—took a little more time and allowed a safe distance between vehicles there'd be a lot few accidents. In fact later on that evening we saw an accident that shut down the freeway. (this was in Reno) off my soapbox and back to LA.
Once inside the Los Angeles World cruise Center—large terminal. We were ushered to the least crowded check-in booth. They have it cordoned off and areas separated according to the deck number you are on, however that isn't necessarily where you'll be because they will usher you to the spot with the fewest people waiting in line or at least that's what they were doing when we arrived. We tried to go to our area and they quickly directed us elsewhere where there was less of a wait. I liked that!! After checking in, we were given a boarding number as we headed out the door into a waiting area. (ours was 9)
Since they hadn't begun to board yet, we waited for about 45 minutes give or take. When you first walk into the waiting area, there is a table just past the vending area, set up with Adventure Ocean stuff. You can get information, compasses and the arm bands. When we arrived there was no one at the table and after waiting for about 10 minutes with more people showing up, they finally paged someone to come to the table. We received my son's arm band and got some AO program info. We still had to wait as they hadn't called for boarding yet. They will not board till everyone from the previous cruise is off the ship and they are ready to re-board. Once our number was called, It probably only took us 20 minutes to ½ hr to get aboard the ship—maybe not even that long. I wasn't really timing but it seemed to go fairly quickly. They checked our cards and passports etc. then on to security. Once thru that it was pictures then out the door thru the gangplank and onto the ship. Like our first cruise, I just wanted to "freeze" and take it all in, however, we had to keep moving. It was time to find the Elevators and go up to the 11th floor to the Windjammer. As a tip, they keep one side of the elevator bank open only for luggage transport. (can't remember which side now but that will be ongoing until later that night after sailing.) At times it was almost easier to hike the stairs rather than wait for the elevators although all of them were working. (some have reported elevators down or not working) Once up to the 11th floor we immediately stopped at a booth where they sold soda cards and gave you mugs. We bought 4 soda cards—1 for each of us. I was concerned whether we'd make use of the soda cards—actually my husband and I more than made up for the cost of the soda cards, however our kids barely drank any soda at all. I'm thinking next time not to get soda cards for kids. I was thinking the opposite—the kids would down sodas more than we would LOL!
After getting the stickers and mugs (make sure your sticker is on firmly. Apparently mine was not and when I went to get 2nd refill, the sticker was gone. They practically accused me of trying to freeload on soda even tho I had a mug that they are giving out to everyone buying soda cards.—Finally after a quick trip to the pursers office it was quickly solved and they gave me another sticker.—The comment from the bar tenders was that the stickers NEVER came off and if they do—it left a dark mark on the card which mine did not have the dark mark. When I went to the pursers office, however, they said the stickers do infact come off frequently and because I'd saved the receipt there was no problem.)
Just a comment about the mugs. They are wonderful! And use them all the time. If you can, take advantage of this offer.
The lunch buffet was terrific! We gorged! I didn't really want to eat all that much because I knew we had early dinner but it was hard to help it. The food was plentiful and you just wanted to try everything. After lunch, we walked around the deck for a few minutes, then headed down to check on the room. It was ready and we were ready to drop our stuff. Upon arriving at the room, we found some of our luggage already there and waiting for us. What fast service! (on Carnival last year, we didn't get luggage showing up until just before muster drill) We started unpacking and realized that I didn't have DS's birth certificate. I'd had it with our passports and other papers when we boarded and at lunch. Oops! Well quickly I returned to the windjammer but of course the table had been cleared. I frequently checked throughout the cruise, however it did not turn up. Fortunately I was prepared and had copies of the birth certificate and passports tucked away for safe keeping. No problem getting off the ship back in LA as the copy would have worked fine (they didn't even check it).
DS had wanted to go swimming , however the pools were temporarily closed, so he was content to watch TV for a little while. As more luggage arrived my husband decided to take him out to explore the ship. I must back up a little We booked 2 adjoining cabins on Deck 4 Ocean View. They were tiny but doable. Less expensive than booking a suite, and had 2 bathrooms which proves invaluable with a teenage daughter. We booked ourselves into 1 cabin and the kids in the other.
With husband and son gone, it was slightly easier to begin unpacking and putting away our clothes. When they did the cabins, they mixed up the beds and instead of separating the kids beds (those were together) they separated ours. Which actually gave us slightly more room in the cabin and if we hadn't had to stuff so much luggage under the bed, that would have been good to have the beds separated each day. But we had tons of luggage—more than what fit in the closet. (I liked Carnival as they had about double the closet space and drawer space.)
Well by this time it was almost ready for muster drill. Our parents still hadn't showed up yet or at least so I thought—between all the mini problems I'd failed to realize that they were in fact there and we finally met up just before muster drill. Muster drill was uneventful and we were soon done and heading back to get ready for dinner. I was supposed to meet up at 4 with some cruisecritic folks and I am sorry I was unable to attend. I so was looking forward to meeting everyone but too much was happening. I was afraid of this and thus reluctant to make a commitment but I did want to meet everyone.
By this time, we were really getting concerned about a piece of my daughter's luggage—all the other luggage had shown up hours before and she was still waiting for this last piece. They said to check after dinner which we did and come to find out she'd packed a pair of scissors that were confiscated. We were given a slip of paper and when we disembarked there was a table just as we went out of the terminal in LA to pick them up. No problem. I don't understand tho how they'd take those scissors that were checked in, and didn't care about some other scissors, a pocket knife and some other implements that we actually carried on. Oh well. And no we're not extortionists LOL! My husband tend to get ingrown toe nails frequently and so we pack stuff so he can dig them out if he needs to.
We arrived down at Vincents at 5:30 for dinner. We were seated at table 19 that was set up for 6. Mom and dad were not there. Where are they?? After looking around for a few minutes, we found them seated at another table. ?? they were supposed to be seated with us. Apparently when they were seated, they were placed at table 9 instead of 19. No problem we waved them to come sit with us. The head waiter was AJ, BoDan was our waiter and the assistant's last name was something like Albrecht or Albert or something like that. Never could get the first name. Delightful bunch who went out of their way.
Very patient with our son who was constantly on the move. Dinner that night I believe started with a Strawberry bisque for me, and I believe I had the leg of lamb. Delightful although I was still stuffed from lunch. How in the world I could ever eat so much food is beyond me! I'd been on a diet before the cruise and had lost about 15 pounds. My appetite has decreased because of it so wasn't used to eating so much. (I only gained about 4 pounds during the cruise tho—yeah) I think the dessert was warm chocolate cake-yuum! My husband had to leave early to take son back to room as he was getting very restless. I ate my cake, and packed up their cookies and ice cream to go.
I eventually took my son up to the Adventure Ocean kickoff party at the Circuit.
After that I checked him in to AO for a little while so I could go and explore. I was exhausted by the time I picked him up 10pm and we all went to bed.
Day 2 - San Diego and Formal Night
After a suggestion from my daughter, we decided to sign son up for the AO dinner at the jade for the evening and next. We were going to keep him with us but decided this would be a better option. The morning started leisurely as the Midway didn't open til 10:00. We went to the Windjammer for breakfast—typical breakfast buffet but was good. My husband wanted to tour Midway and originally we were going to Seaworld, however learning it was formal night with early seating, we opted not to do such a long excursion. There was an art auction as well that afternoon so there was a lot to do.
After dropping off son to AO, we headed for the US Midway! If you've ever wondered how a ship (air carrier specifically) is run—this is your tour! It was very interesting and worth the time. Plan to spend a lot of time just leisurely wondering around. They also have a gift shop and snack bar. About 1:30 Dad was ready to head back to ship so I, mom, dad and daughter headed back to get lunch, husband stayed on to finish tour and see bridge and flight control which he said was very good.
When he got back, it was a quick shower, get dressed for dinner and off to art auction. He got another Jim Collins and I finally got a Kincade! Not the one I really want but a good one, plus we got a few freebees as well. I've heard many stories about getting ripped off thru Park West. I haven't had a problem. If you are careful which we are—we don't buy any of the real expensive stuff—just the little stuff. On our last cruise we got some really cool things and we only bought 2 Jim Collins prints. If you only buy what you can afford and what you like—not to collect or expect to gain value—even though it very well could, you'll be ok. I briefly went down there myself for a few minutes on the way to get son from AO.
Dinner that night I even got brave and tried the Escargot upon high recommendation from waiter. Very delicious. It's hard to get over the thought of having snails! The waiter said it tasted like chicken—well it didn't taste anything like chicken as far as I was concerned but still good. I truly believe the secret is how it's prepared! I'm not even sure I really tasted the "snails" or did I really want to. But the butter, garlic and parmesan is what made it!! Another first and not last was the Grand Mariner Soufflé! I'd been told on our last cruise (Carnival) that because it had the Grand Mariner in it that it had Alcohol and it was NOT cooked out. (We are mormon and do not drink.) Our waiter reassured us that the alcohol was totally cooked out and just in there for the flavor so I braved myself and sure enough—just the flavor! Incredible was all I could say! The show that night was Starstuck. Incredibly delightful. I love Broadway type shows with lots of music and dancing and I loved this one. I also found that the costumes were a lot more "family friendly" than on Carnival. After the show it was time to get son from AO. We were exhausted and to bed we went.
Day 3 - Good morning Catalina!! We'd never been there before and found it quite interesting.
After having breakfast at WJ and dropping son off at AO we headed for the tender lines.
We'd given him a choice of going to beach or staying at AO. He kept changing mind but ended up going to AO. He apparently changed his mind however later in the morning and wasn't happy that he had to stay at AO. When we got back there were several messages waiting for us to come to AO immediately and get him. Needless to say he never went back. The AO staff was wonderful and the programs were great. Unfortunately my son didn't obey some of the rules and was threatening the staff and some of the other children. (I think he was teasing more likely as he's a big tease—he does threaten but usually in a playful way which obviously wasn't taken that way. I think the AO staff was wise in doing what they did however and I hold nothing against them.
Back to Catalina for a few moments—After waiting in line for about 20 minutes for a tender (Huge tenders that hold about 5-600 people) we finally started moving. The tender ride to Catalina was short and uneventful. My daughter wanted to shop so we walked around the shops of the island for a while. When we got tired we decided to rent a golf cart to tour the island. Well worth the $40 (The rental fee was $40 for 1st hour with a $30 deposit. If you go for 2 hrs. they keep your deposit. They take ONLY CASH! We knew this from reading the boards so we were prepared. Just know that No checks or CC are accepted. They will NOT take travelers checks either—strictly cash!) The tour was fun and the views incredible. We realized at the top of the first hill that our batteries in our camera were weak. Fortunately the island is small and the trip back to town was short. We quickly got new batteries and were on our way. It was fun to drive around and see everything and my husband and daughter had a blast trying to navigate the map. He was driving she was navigating!
We got back slightly past our hour time but they still gave us the deposit back. And back to the ship we went.
My son finally got to go swimming, we'd been promising him for the last couple of days but there was always SOOO much to do. I finally took him for a while. The water although on the chilly side was ok. Very salty and they do chlorinate it as well. At the pool we met up with my nephew who was there on his honeymoon cruise—yes the one we went to Reno for the wedding. I really tried to stay away from him during the cruise but somehow we always ended up running into each other. He was supposed to meet up with daughter for a basketball dual but it never materialized—again too much to do.
Dinner that night was great and my son amazingly made it all the way thru dessert without having to take him out. I can't remember what was on the menu other than it was good. The wait staff also seemed to pay extra attention to son so that helped.
(In case you're probably wondering what's wrong with us or our 5 year old –He hasn't been officially diagnosed with ADHD, however we think he has it. He has some other behavior issues and he was exposed to meth in the first trimester of his birthmother's pregnancy. He's not a bad kid and was extremely good on the trip, however he does have his moments.)
The show on Wednesday was Paul Boland, an impersonator that was incredibly funny and entertaining impersonating many popular artists including Neil Diamond, Frank Sinatra, Barry Manilow and several others. This was also the night of the famed Chocolate Buffet. Although I didn't try any of it, I took pictures from the balcony of the Centrum and as they were setting up. The lines were incredibly long starting at I believe deck 6 or 7. Once it got moving, I heard it moved fairly fast. And to top all that off, while I was waiting to get pictures of the chocolate buffet, I managed to sneak into Balaros and listened to our Rockin' Dueling pianos! I didn't stay long because it was so late for us. I was exhausted, however I just had to see what everyone has raved about for so long. Incredible is all I can say! I thoroughly enjoyed it and if it hadn't been so late, and I so tired, I probably would have stayed. I also felt slightly guilty though because my husband was left alone in our room with our son. I felt I needed to get back to him because it wasn't really fair.
Thursday—Ensenada and final day of cruise.
We had an early board for our tours. (8:30) so got an early wake-up call. Very easy to do—just call the number on your phone for wake-up calls—program it in following the prompts and away you go. Breakfast at Windjammers again. (mom and dad loved going to Vincents for breakfast so that's usually where they went. We on the other hand did the WJ because it was easier on our son. It also gave him a little "freedom" to move around a bit without making a nuisance of himself. After eating a quick breakfast, we disembarked the ship, and headed for the bus. Mom and dad were there to meet us and away we went. La Bufadora was very interesting. The ride out there took about ½ hr. to 45 minutes and I felt asleep during part of it. Going thru Ensenada, I found the town typical of a dry, poor Mexican type town. (the only other Mexican town I'd been to was Cozumel which actually I liked better. I seemed to compare it slightly with Jamaica where we were last year. More modern conveniences than Jamaica tho but a lot dryer.
One word of advise, if you can don't use the restrooms at La Bufadora—wait—they charge you 50 cents and expect a tip as well. This kind of teed me off although they were clean as an attendant is there and even comes in after you leave the toilet to wipe it down for the next person. I wasn't quite used to such service—they are even there to hand you a paper towel after you've washed your hands.
We spent an hour at La Bufadora besides the "blow hole" there isn't much to see except for the shopping, and shopping there was—tons of things. Be aware that the vendors will do anything it takes to lure you into their store—there was also a lot of drug pushing (for lack of a better name) going on. Mexico doesn't have any Rx laws like we do in the states, so you can get anything without a prescription. I don't know the quality or really what's in those drugs or if it's the real thing etc. I did check at the desk at the port because I was curious about Albuterol (rescue inhaler for asthma) In Mexico they said they don't have albuterol but it's another drug supposedly the same thing but I'd never heard of it. I didn't buy it. I would be VERY leery of anything purchased there. And somehow I'd doubt if you could get it back to the U.S. anyway—thru customs???? We left LA Bufadora and on to the Mexican Folkloric festival. RCCL rents out the (I guess convention center) every week and does this show. My first impressions was it was just another vender shopping excursion—when you first arrive they take you to an outside courtyard where vendors are set up. They had a lot of interesting things but were also kind of expensive. After a while of that, they take you into a big seated area where they have lots of tables sitting above and around a staged area. The show was interesting but it was hard to see from where we were seated. My husband found it boring, although it kind of enjoyed the music. I had to leave on a couple of occasions and finally walked out of there just before they were done.
Although, we could have stayed in town to shop after the festival, we were hungry and ready to go back to ship. Our son was wanting to go swimming again but it was too cold. So after lunch we went back to room and relaxed for a while and watched cartoons. There was another art auction that my husband wanted to go see so he showered and changed and was headed for that along with my daughter this time. Shortly afterwards daughter came back and took son swimming for a little a bit, while I started to pack. We had a lot of packing to do and knowing that the evening would be full of activities, I'd try to get an upper hand on the packing. Dinner was great starting off with a melon dish, then I had the steak with a béarnaise sauce on it—very good. My daughter on all nights had a pasta dish with noodles and a tomato sauce thing that she said was very good. Our waiter got to know that every time that was what she wanted. Son had a hamburger and I can't remember what everybody else had. Dessert was baked Alaska among other choices. Good but not quite what I was expecting.
Show was Fast Forward again outstanding. I spent a couple of hours on the last night trying to track down daughter. She was never where she was supposed to be, it was getting late and she was not packed—in fact she hadn't even started. I'd learned a while back that you don't touch her things. LOL! I did manage to get most of sons things out of her room and packed with my stuff. One thing I tried this time was to pack everything that we'd need for our next stop in 1 little suitcase. This worked out well because we only had to bring 1 suitcase into our hotel on the next stop instead of dragging in several. It also worked because we could keep the car still fairly packed without having to repack and regroup things. Of course that didn't work with daughter—she had to have almost every one of her 2 big cases and her 1 small case out. LOL! Eventually she was found and hesitantly began packing. Her luggage was out just after midnight and we all went to bed.
We were assigned yellow tags for the disembarking Friday morning. If you have yellow—it's one of the last to be called (at least it was on our cruise—they may rotate that around periodically but for ours it was almost the last) We did again get an early morning wake up since we had to be out of room by 8am although they like it if you're out by 7:30. Breakfast in the WJ was good and we took our time. Mom and dad met up with us after they ate at Vincents. They said the food was better and had a better selection of what they wanted—I think they also liked the service and the fact they could sit down and be waited upon without having to get up and fight the crowds—and crowds there were this time!! EVERYONE was trying to eat all at the same time. We stayed at the WJ until they kicked us out, working on a plan to get out of town and back to I-15 southbound. They best option we'd decided was to take the 110 North to the 91 east and then over to the 15 north. This proved to be very efficient and better than the other options we were thinking about. (we'd heard on the radio traffic reports that some of the other freeways etc. had been closed, slow or had other SIG alerts on them. Of course it could have been the other way around very easily with LA traffic—you just never know. We were in Barstow with in the next half hour after exiting out of the terminal.
Once they kicked us out of the WJ, we got slightly separated out on the pool deck—we were still waiting for our color. By the time we'd found each other again (within 5-10 minutes) they finally called our color. The elevators were jammed, so we started walking down the stairs. About floor 6 the exit lines started. Although it moved it was slow but not bad. By the time we got to the 4th floor (they had us line up around the Centrum) my son had had it and was literally climbing and swinging from the bottom of the Centrum stairs. Fortunately didn't seem to bother anyone but us. LOL! I was just afraid that he'd fall off or something. We finally made it off the ship and thru customs and on to luggage.
All pretty easy and painless.
The cruise was great all in all and a delightful vacation. There were several circumstances that I had to compare to our first cruise on Carnival, although I tried not to compare. For the service, price and value, I think this was a great cruise. It really makes me want to try RCCL's larger class ships such as the Voyager or Freedom series.
There is a LOT to do onboard as well as off for these ports and there was no way we could do it all. I really think that if we ever do this cruise again—we'd keep Ensenada as a sea day and not get off the ship. (I've felt from the start that they need an extra sea day just to catch up) We will cruise again, although it will probably be a couple of years down the road. It may be RCCL, or Carnival or even who knows it might even be Disney. I've really enjoyed RCCL. But I also liked Carnival as well. I'm not singling out any line or eliminating them either. When you do your math, and do it carefully you can make the wise decision on what's going to be best value for you—be sure to include airfare if you have to fly. So far we've found that the two cruises we've taken and especially this last one had been the BEST value for our money. We added up the things we could do for vacation and the costs associated and ended up with this cruise it offered us a lot of variety, things to do and was less expensive than a land based vacation when you compared the same things.