This was the first ever cruise for my wife and I and certainly wont be the last. Having previously spent six years in the Navy didn't make me anxious to spend my hard earned vacation on a ship but boy was I ever surprised. It turned out to be the greatest vacation I've ever had.
We arrived at the Ft. Lauderdale aiport shortly after noon on our sailing day to be greeted by RCI staff right after leaving the plane. Here we patiently waited for the RCI staff to assemble enough people to take the bus ride to Port Everglades. I'm glad we had to wait for the bus because my wife and I ended up meeting two of the greatest people, Brian and JoDell from PA. How coincidental was it that not only were we on the same cruise, but on the same deck with rooms right next to each other? We became instant companions, sharing many shipboard experiences together and Im sure now friends for life.
Getting to Port Everglades and onto the ship went off without a single hitch. We found RCI staff very helpful with all onboarding procedures.
As soon as we got on board, we went to the Excursion Desk because we had feared that all the excursions we wanted might have been booked. We booked our cruise inside the 10 day window and were unable to secure excursions prior to boarding. Boy were we excited to find our excursion tickets on our cabin door the next day!
We had the Second Seating in the dining room which turned out to be a blessing. It allowed us the time we wanted to do other things on the ship. We made arrangements with our new found friends to get seated together (many thanks to Joseph, the Head Waiter) at the same table and as a result, ended up at what I believe was the greatest assembly of people on the ship. Every night at dinner was filled with fun, laughter, and reminiscing of the day's prior events. Not only did we all dine together, but hung out at other ship functions, like the shows, activities, casinos and bars. I'm convinced we had more fun with the folks at our table than any other group onboard.
The talent, attitude and demeanor of the crew and staff of the Monarch is immeasurable. I never ceased being impressed by the smiles and pleasantries offered by RCI's employees. This fact alone will cause me to only sail onboard RCI in the future. Our cabin attendant, John B., always kept our room clean and pleasant (with no help from me) and he constantly impressed my wife with this "towel designs" in the shapes of animals! Mohammed, our dining room waiter, worked tirelessly to make our dining experience wonderful and seemed to take great pleasure in doing a fabulous job. All meals were served hot, delicious and with great smiles. Im not culinary expert but Im sure these meals were prepared by the finest of chefs. The WindJammer also had great food too, always served with the same great service I saw as the norm aboard the ship. The shows and activities on board the ship provided constant and memorable entertainment. The comedians were top notch and I was really into the Chameleons, a Beatles tribute band. Several times I got up to dance during their performance (really bad dancer) as did most of the crowd.
Alan the cruise director was probably the most impressive guy on the ship. This man is superhuman as he appeared to be everywhere on the ship at all times. He was emcee at many activities on the ship and everytime I saw him he was smiling, completely enthralled in his job. The shows were great entainment and Alan's personal touch while emceeing events was hillarious. The show he does with his staff on the last nite was absolutely the funniest live performance I have seen in awhile and is not to be missed. Of course, don't miss the Not-So-Newlywed Game, the Scavenger Hunt, and the Belly Flop Contest (which I was crowned Champ!!). These activities are some of the best on the whole cruise!
We didn't take a planned excursion in Key West. We found it more fun to just walk around the Duval St. area and browse things on our own, sampling some local cuisine and doing some shoping. We had some unseasonable chilly weather that day (low 50's) so the Key West vendors sold lots of sweats that day! Make sure you visit Capt. Tony's Saloon and drop off your business card with the thousands of others that adorn the ceilings and walls of the bar!
We took the Jungle Jeep Safari excursion in Cozumel. My wife and I paired up a gentleman and his son in our jeep. We had a group of about 30 people. We had two guides, Alex and Eddy, who were extremely intelligent and very funny too. They provided lots of laughs for our excursion as well as knowledgeable facts about where and what we would see and do. We drove the jeeps through the streets of Cozumel to a dirt road through a dense jungle area. The dirt road was really rough and not very wide but was kinda fun. We saw huge iguanas (I think they were iguanas) and some colorful birds. During this trip, we visited a small ancient mayan alter and then went to a secluded beach that was just like the ones you see in the pictures that make you want to come to Mexico. Nice sandy beaches and pristine warm waters. At the beach, we feasted on a small mexican buffet of chicken and steak tacos, fresh fruit and chips and salsa (be careful of the HOT salsa--yikes!). Great time was had and we highly recommend it.
At Costa Maya, my wife and I paired up with our friends Brian and JoDell to go to the Jungle Beach Break. A 40 minute ride through some more dense jungle leads us to another beautiful mexican beach that had all the toys we wanted..(chairs, umbrellas, paddleboats, wave runners (extra charge for wr's) and of course, the open bar. I planted myself on the "swinging chair" at the beach bar and had a few cervezas...trying to convince myself I had to go home again. Food was extra here (burgers, dogs from $4-6) but if you eat breakfast on the ship, you should be okay till you get back. We definately recommend this excursion too. A nice relaxing beach before the full "at sea" day.
The last full day onboard, the "at sea" day was filled with fun and relaxation. The guys from our table all donated money in the casino...except for Bruce who won a ton of money! And our whole table was fully supportive of my efforts in the Belly Flop contest and Brian's efforts in the Men's Sexy Legs Contest. Don't miss these events as you will be laughing and clapping the whole time.
On the last day, we met our table friends for the last time at the WindJammer. We had already exchanged addresses, phone numbers and email addresses, planning to keep in touch (which some of us have already!) and share pictures that we have all taken. Leaving the ship went off without a hitch, like everything else I saw, RCI was well equiped to deal with the mass exodus of people. The airport was kinda hectic but expecting that, it didn't scare us too bad. We made all flights home on time, safe and sound.
I feel like I said too much and not enough. If you are on the fence about what cruise to take, this one is the tiebreaker. RCI should make a "customer service video" and send it to every travel or food service entity in the business. Our hats are off the Monarch of the Seas officers, staff and crew for making this the most memorable vacation we have had. Im already saving to go back!