Cruisers and Cabin:
I took this cruise with my 12 yr. old niece, Liz. This was her first cruise and my fifth. I have sailed RCI (Rhapsody, Enchantment, Radiance) and Celebrity (Infinity) over the past 4 years. I booked an inside cabin, category K, on deck 5. It was right off the Shops of the Centrum area, very convenient to get around and very quiet. The cabin was very small, but it was just fine for the 2 of us. I have traveled with 4 adults in an inside cabin on the Rhapsody and Enchantment, and we did just fine. It would have been nearly impossible in this cabin. Our cabin attendant was Johnny from Costa Rica and he took good care of us. He made Liz towel animals, even a bunny for Easter!
Liz and I flew in the night before (don't ask where we stayed!) and then were shuttled to the pier in the morning. We arrived around 10:15 am and the line was fairly short, but grew very fast. We were delayed being processed for boarding until shortly after 11 am because 2 wedding parties and a group of visually impaired individuals were allowed to board the ship first.
Once we were allowed to get our cruise cards, keys, etc., it took all of 10 minutes to get on the ship. We explored a little and then went to the Windjammer for lunch around Noon. The buffet was very good, with carved beef, pasta, orange beef with veggies and rice, etc. The bread was better than I have ever had so far, and that is saying a lot!
After lunch, we went to our cabin to change and we headed for the pool. We spent a nice afternoon sunning and swimming. I made an appointment before we went to the pool to get a pedicure at 5:45 pm. Eve did a nice job, however, I think she only applied one coat of polish and it was chipped by the end of the cruise. Liz also had her hair done in the salon on formal night, and the guy did a very nice job.
The weather was excellent for the entire cruise, with temps in the mid 80's and barely a cloud in the sky the whole time! The Family pool was open, but the Adult pool and hot tubs were closed for cleaning the first afternoon.
Overall, the food on the cruise was pretty good. I liked everything I had and so did Liz. Our waiter was Tan from Malaysia, and our asst waiter was Carolina from the Philippines. Our table of 10 was well taken care of all week. We were in the Flower Drum Song Dining Room on deck 4.
For dinner, my entrees included the eggplant dish with orzo pilaf, the filet mignon (excellent as always!) with scalloped potatoes and asparagus, vegetarian lasagna, made with tortillas, with Spanish rice (this was surprisingly tasty!), and the prime rib with a baked potato (again, excellent). Liz enjoyed the Fiesta Chicken one night, as well as the duck quesadilla appetizer; otherwise we had the same entrees. I also enjoyed my escargot, as usual. I wasn't too impressed with the onion soup (too brothy), but the traditional Mexican soup was very good. The salads were all fresh and tasty. The desserts were always good. I had a souffle 2 of the nights, the Baked Alaska one night, and the Italian ice cream roll with raspberry sauce. Liz had ice cream several nights and she was quite happy with it. We ate lunch and snacks in the Windjammer and we never went hungry. It wasn't necessarily gourmet, but it was hot (or cold) and filling. Food was virtually always available it seemed. There was one midnight buffet, on night three, that included fruit, Jamaican chicken, and desserts. The other nights had the midnight delights (hors d'oeuvres, desserts and petit fours, and mini sandwiches) served in the bars and lounges.
Fellow Passengers and Kids Program:
This ship had almost 2,500 people, including over 600 kids 17 and under! Liz was in the 12-14 year olds group (Navigators) and she met friends the first night at a dance. She stayed out late every night, participating in the activities and just hanging out in empty lounges after midnight, talking with her friends. They seemed to have a great time. She loved playing basketball, playing in the pool, going to the dances, etc. The last day of the cruise (our day at sea) I didn't see her until 11 pm at night because she was so busy with her new friends! I had to hunt her down so she could pack her suitcase! If you have an out going kid, don't expect to see them much! The other passengers were a wide range of ages, the majority probably in their late 30's and 40's. I would say the over 70 crowd was only about 15 %. Overall, the kids were well behaved on this cruise. It seemed like the older teens hung out in groups all over the ship, and the little ones were well entertained. I was definitely more annoyed by the 15 kids total on my Hawaiian cruise than I was by the 600+ on this one.
I thoroughly enjoyed the entertainment on this cruise. The first night was a comedian juggler named Jeff Taveggia. He was quite good. He even injured himself performing one of his tricks, but her kept going, despite the blood dripping down his face! The second night was the Royal Caribbean Singers and Dancers and a show called "Fast Forward". They did highlights from shows such as "Fame", "Saturday Night Fever", "Footloose", and "Dirty Dancing". It was very good. The third night was the Beatles tribute, but I missed it. The last night was comedian Dan Wilson (pretty funny) and encores by the RC Singers and Dancers, and the "If I Weren't Upon the Sea" skit, which I have never seen before on a cruise. It was very funny! The cruise Director was Allan Brooks from Montreal. He was very good at his job. His cruise staff was very good as well. Bingo Matt, the asst cruise director was very funny as well. They had various musicians throughout the various lounges in the ship all day that were quite enjoyable.
Ports of Call:
In Key West, we took the Nature Kayaking excursion, which included a short drive to Stock Island, a brief lesson, and over an hour of Kayaking through the mangroves, flats, and salt ponds. I am glad we went early at 8 am, as it got very hot later in the morning. We saw birds, jellyfish, sponges, sea cucumbers, and fish. I highly recommend this tour. Two of our tablemates said it there wasn't much to do in town before 10 am, as most of the shops were closed until then. We had to be back on the ship by 12:30, so there wasn't much time after our tour ended around 11 am. We shopped a little, and got back on the ship. After some pool time, I went to the Wine Tasting (free with my C&A coupon) and enjoyed tasting some different wines.
The next day was Cozumel, where we arrived an hour & 1/2 early. They started to disembark passengers by 10:30 instead of noon. We took a cab straight to Chankanaab ($8). We were one of the first people to arrive at the park and we snagged chairs right next to the water, but also in the shade.
We snorkeled for a while, and then we decided to walk around (viewing the botanical gardens) before checking in for our Dolphin Swim with Dolphin Discovery. We had the 2 pm time (3 pm ship time). This was the highlight of our cruise! Our dolphins were named Eva and Foxie. They were very sweet. We did a dorsal tow (one dolphin on each hand), a foot push (one dolphin on each foot, pushing you through the water), a pectoral fin wave, a pole jump (we held up a pole and the dolphins jumped over it three times), and a kiss (the dolphin kissed our cheek and we kissed it back on the lips!) We also had some time with the dolphins as they swam around us freely. But before that happened, we all had to get out of the water as all of a sudden we had three dolphins in our area. One of the dolphins participating in a group next to our area decided to wander. All of the dolphins had to have a time out until he behaved himself. As we stood on the pier waiting, Eva and Foxie kept jumping up out of the water to look at us because they knew we weren't done yet! We ended up buying the video ($49) and the pictures of our dolphin kisses ($12 each). If you plan on booking the swim (www.dolphindiscovery.com), allow a good 2+ hours, because by the time you get back to the check-in area, view the video, etc, it takes some time.
After we left the park, we taxied back to the ship's pier and browsed the shops in that area. We docked at the International pier, not the downtown pier. Then we headed back to the ship for a snack and a swim before dinner.
Our day at sea (Sunday) was fabulous! Like I said before, our weather was great. Liz hung out with her friends all day and had a blast. FYI, Easter Sunday, they did have an Easter Egg Hunt for the little ones and the Easter Bunny was there for pictures. There were 2 church services, a Catholic Mass and an interdenominational prayer service.
I usually like to do activities, but this time, I just lounged in the sun all afternoon with 2 of my tablemates, Terry and Wendy. We had fun trying different cocktails and shooters! Look out for Patrick the shooter guy! He's a good salesman!
At 5:30 was the Repeater's Party, something new on 4-night cruises. They were serving champagne, but I didn't want a bubbly drink, so I ordered a Margarita instead. The hors d'oeuvres included cheese sticks, egg rolls, BBQ wieners, assorted finger sandwiches, caviar, petit fours, etc. It was an emotional party for Captain Svein Steinmoen, because this was his last cruise on the Monarch, after 3 years. He will be moving to the Adventure of the Seas after a vacation. I had the opportunity to meet with him and his lovely wife in the Champagne Bar after the party, where he and his wife came to say good-bye to Chen, the bartender in the Champagne Bar. After they left, Chen told us he was a great Captain and everyone on the ship was sad to see him go. Captain Steinmoen was not the Captain of the Monarch when it had the accident in St. Martin (obviously)! I talked to our waiter about that, and he was on the ship when it happened. He said it was really scary because the water was rushing in on deck 0 where he was at the time!
Disembarkation went smoothly for us. We had decided to do the Everglades tour, since we were not flying out until the next day. We left the ship at about 9 am and boarded a bus for our tour. The tour was fun. We didn't see any alligators on our Air Boat Ride, but they have some in the park you can see later, along with Florida Panthers, a black leopard, python, lemur, etc. We were dropped at the FLL airport, where we hopped a shuttle to Thrifty to rent a car and drive down to Miami Beach. We flew out of Miami the next day.
Overall, I would give this cruise a high mark. I had a very good time, and so did my niece, and I was on vacation! I didn't have to cook or clean and I slept great! I do enjoy the longer cruises, but this worked out for Liz's Spring Break and it was the perfect length for her first cruise. The ship was in very good shape for its age, and is well suited for the Caribbean itineraries. The newer ships (Vision class and Radiance Class) also have those nice Solarium pools and a layout that spans the entire ship, rather than just the mid and aft like on the Monarch (except for the Windjammer, which is the only "area" that is forward on the ship). I now need to try out the Voyager class next!