Royal Caribbean International - Cruisemates Reader's Cruise Reviews
CruiseMates' Readers Cruise Reviews
Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines

Monarch of the Seas
by Doug Roberts
Bahamas
November 28, 2008

First a Disclaimer: We loved this cruise and had a great time. There will be several comments in this review that are negative toward the ship, its staff and the direction RCI is going. So, RCI cheerleaders, consider that we would not hesitate to sail with RCI again before you savage me for negative comments.

Getting There
If you want to see the ultimate future of the airline industry, fly Spirit Airlines, America's ala carte airline. Everything is extra, baggage, seat selection, snacks and drinks on board. Please leave your filthy money at home as they only accept credit cards. The cabin and tray tables are plastered with advertisements. I imagine that before long you will have to swipe a credit card to open the overhead bins or drop your tray table.

We chose Around the Clock (ATC) to transport us from Orlando International Airport; they were prompt, courteous and efficient. We were well pleased with their service.

Embarkation
We arrived early at Port Canaveral and had to wait about 30 minutes before check-in. Once check-in began it was efficient and quick. We wish it was a little more courteous. The personnel in the terminal were very impersonal and not very welcoming. When we checked in as a returning passenger for Princess we were greeted with smiles and a welcome back.

All we got were lukewarm greetings and stern fingers pointing the direction in which we should go to board. There were no hitches or delays and we got some smiles and warm welcomes after crossing the gangplank.

Once onboard we proceeded to the Windjammer buffet for lunch. We found a great table at the very front of the ship with a panoramic view and chose to sit there every meal we took in the Windjammer.

The Monarch of the Seas is a gracefully aging lady who is clean and well maintained. The main indication of her age is the lack of balcony cabins, so highly in demand these days. The only other evidence of age was the wear and tear obvious in the shower in our cabin.

Our cabin seemed miniscule at 122 sq feet compared to Princess and Celebrity. However the bed proved to be quite comfortable. Our cabin steward Connie was on hand to greet us, however, we rarely saw her afterward and were never greeted by name as on other cruises.

Muster drill was at 4pm and the highlight was a bride and groom in full dress with life jacket on who were assigned to our muster station. Nothing like a bright orange vest to complement a wedding dress.

Again, here I have to express preference for having muster in a public lounge, like Princess.

Can You Hear those Glass Ceilings Shattering?
The captain of the Monarch is Karin Stahre-Janson, the first female captain of a cruise ship. Our pilot on the flight from Atlantic City to Orlando was also female.

The Ship
The Monarch's public areas are, for the most part, adjacent to the atrium called the Centrum. The 3rd deck has the photo gallery. The dining rooms, Vincent's and Claude's (named after moderately famous artists), are located on decks 3 and 4. The Purser's desk, the excursions desk and the internet cafe are on deck 4; shopping and the casino are on deck 5. Deck 7 features the Boleros Lounge, a Latin themed lounge. The theater is accessible at the aft of both Decks 5 and 7. The balcony of the theater features some very bad to non-existent sight lines on the sides, the theater type seats have a tilt that make it feel like you are going to slip off. Best bet are the seats in the center section of the main floor which are couch types. The drink holders were designed for the glasses of another era, so you must hold on to your drinks. The spa and fitness centers are on Deck 9. Deck 10 has kids facilities, while the Windjammer buffet and the pools are on Deck 11. Deck 12 has the rock climbing wall. Deck 14 is RCI's signature Viking Crown Lounge.

Sailaway!
I would like to say that we sailed off into the sunset, but that would be geographically inaccurate as the sun set behind us.

Shortly after we sailed it was dinner time as we had main seating. We ended up at a table for 12. Our table mates were a varied group ranging from a brother and sister and their respective spouses to a couple from Nebraska and 4 single ladies. One of the single ladies I dubbed Larry the Cable Guy's sister, she was loud and boisterous and a source of great amusement throughout. She would have horrified the most prim and proper, but we thought she was great fun. I kept teasing her good naturedly but was careful after finding out she was both a postal worker and a biker. She was always on the case of one of the couples who were perpetually late for dinner, all in good fun.

Carl, our waiter, and his assistant, both from St Vincent, were a good natured and fun wait staff. They not only remembered our names, but our preferences throughout the cruise. This is the sort of thing you miss with anytime or freestyle dining.

Food in the dining room is where RCI's cutbacks are obvious to veteran cruisers. The food was uniformly well prepared, artfully presented and delicious. The portion sizes have been cut, which is not always a bad thing. The selection was good with more pasta and chicken dishes than I remember. The first night Caesar Salad was served family style. Lobster night is gone for shorter cruises as well as Baked Alaska and Crème Brulee.

Dress in the dining room was decidedly casual, even during formal night. Although I own a tux, I opted for a jacket and tie. I only saw one tux that night. Formal night was ill-timed as we were still docked in Nassau and were not scheduled to sail away until midnight. RCI should seriously consider dropping formal night on cruises of 5 nights or less.

After dinner, we played bingo for a $500 prize and an upgrade to a junior suite. We took the 9 chances for $36 and used the automated handheld which automatically checks off the numbers. We were one number away when someone called bingo. We rationalized that we would have lost it faster in the casino.

Drink prices seem to have gone through the roof on RCI. The drink of the day which included the glass (real glass not plastic) to keep was $9.50. A soda sticker for your sign and sail card good for unlimited soda was $24 for a three day cruise.

RCI has prohibited all alcohol being brought on board including wine. That is the first time we encountered that restriction -- another example of seeking new revenue.

The first night saw a combined show for both dinner seatings featuring Kivi Rodgers, a very funny comedian.

Hey! Where Are Our Gifts and Compass?
We began the second day of our cruise wondering just what is up on the ship as we had not been provided a Compass the night before, nor was one slipped under our door. We usually peruse it over breakfast, deciding on what activities to pursue. We had to track down our room steward to get a copy. This was a major annoyance. We also noted that none of the perks for returning Crown and Anchor members had been distributed such as our gift and coupon booklet. The welcome aboard party and wine tasting does not apply for cruises under 7 days.

Windjammer
We ate all breakfasts and lunches, except for the day three lunch on Coco Cay, in the Windjammer buffet. There are two serving stations in the buffet, one serving American fare and farthest forward, the Jade which serves Asian specialties. Both serve breakfast. Food was plentiful, but not spectacular, although some acted like it was the last food they would ever see judging by how high they heaped their plates. I enjoyed the food at lunch in the Jade. Up one deck is the Jade's sushi bar, which is an extra charge venue and Sorrento's which serves pizza. Hours of operation for each are listed in the Compass. Coffee has markedly improved as RCI now serves Seattle's Best.

Nassau
We watched the approach to Nassau from our vantage point at breakfast in the Windjammer. We could see the unmistakable outline of the Atlantis as we approached. We had a late arrival at port scheduled at 11 am. We were preceded into port by the Norwegian Sky and Carnival Inspiration. You are right in downtown Nassau when you debark. To go shopping you need only walk straight out of the port building and go ahead one block to Bay Street, where you will find the usual suspects. The pink Parliament building is straight ahead. Turn to the right and you can head to the major part of the shopping district, although there are a few shops off to the left. When we debarked, the Changing of the Guard was taking place and we stopped to enjoy the military band that was excellent and fun. At one point, the drum major picked a woman out of the crowd to march with them. Marj and I chose to turn right to browse the shops and eventually ended up at the Straw Market, which moved several blocks after a fire, a market with lots of crafts and goods of questionable ancestry. Marj was checking out the handbags and was examining a Dooney and Burke knockoff that was not branded. She noted that and the lady said "I have Dooney and Burke label for it!" Marj ended up with a very nice straw bag (after all it is the Straw Market!) We walked a bit along the waterfront and then continued the shopping on the opposite side of Bay Street. Upon our return to Parliament Square, the Children's Choir of Bahamas had taken the stage and was singing seasonal songs. They were very good. We returned to the ship for dinner at that point even though we were in port until midnight. We decided to forgo a trip to Atlantis because of the outrageous charges for their facilities.

Captain's Gala Dinner (AKA Formal Night)
This was the least formal of any formal night I have been to on a cruise. Most opted for jacket and tie, many were just plain casual and some in tee shirts. I saw only one tux all night. The menu was good, but no lobster as is the custom on other cruises we have been on.

This night there was a separate show for each dinner seating and featured a comedian and impressionist who put on a very good show. On to Coco Cay.

CoCo Cay
We sailed away from Nassau at midnight bound for RCI's private island Coco Cay, whose official name is Little Stirrup Cay. The two ships we were docked beside in Nassau were also there. Close by the Norwegian Sky was anchored at Big Stirrup Cay and the Carnival Imagination at Half Moon Cay a bit farther away.

Unlike Princess' private island Princess Cays, which is just a small section of a much larger island, Coco Cay is a small island. We were tendered in by large tenders from the island, not the smaller boats from the ship. This made tendering quicker and kept the lines and wait times shorter. The day was gloomy and overcast, but there were breaks of sun and pleasant temperatures. A buffet bbq lunch was served on the island with the usual suspects (chicken, ribs, burgers and dogs) served as well as a decent variety of sides, salads and fruits. Marj and I explored the island and found the alleged grave of Blackbeard the pirate which is in disrepair, along the path around the island. Activities available include scuba, snorkeling and parasailing. Marj and I decided to partake of the most popular activity, lounging. Showers popped up in the afternoon and we returned to ship. We departed early from Coco Cay due to an impending storm and gale force winds.

The last night's entertainment at the theater featured a production show, nothing special but enjoyable. By the end of the evening the ship was noticeably rocking and we had to reassure some nervous first-timers that this was nothing to worry about.

Our gifts for being past passengers, Crown and Anchor Society hats, finally appeared the last night.

We were among the last to disembark as we were spending the night in Orlando before going home. We noticed several pieces of baggage left out overnight had still not been collected. All of them were in our color group (departure order is by color). Ours was gone before we returned from the show.

Disembarkation
Disembarkation at Port Canaveral was the best of any port. You now clear customs and immigration at the same time, before you pick up your luggage. Luggage comes out airport style on conveyor belts, which makes claiming your bags a breeze.

Final Thoughts
Overall I would rate this cruise a 3 on a scale of 1 to 5. It has good points, such as a well maintained ship, decent food and entertainment. I expected somewhat of a party animal atmosphere due to the length of the cruise and that it was during a holiday, not so. Not so good were lapses in cabin service, menu cutbacks and the somewhat cool reception we received at embarkation. A smile goes a long way!

Would we do it again? Most definitely!