Number of Cruises: 3
Cruise Line: Royal Caribbean
Ship: Monarch of the Seas
Sailing Date: 2004
Itinerary: LA/Baja Mexico
I will attempt to refrain from the generic cruise review banter and get to the facts. I will say some good things and some bad, and call a spade a spade. I must say this cruise was highly entertaining. I am 48. A weekend 3 nighter from Los Angeles California to Ensenada Mexico, I was not expecting much. I was fully prepared for a booze cruise full of young obnoxious 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.
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.
Royal Caribbean's Monarch of the Seas, built in 91’ and renovated in the summer of 2003 showed very little wear and tear. Almost everything was new and functioning. The ship layout was interesting with all the public rooms on the rear (aft) second half of the ship and the cabins on the front (forward) half. I bet the elderly people liked that. The promenade deck walking was absolutely mandatory in my book and the Monarch was good for this. Wide long, lots of space. Very traditional and timeless. My favorite. The ship resembled a real ocean liner with its rakish bow, sleek lines made for cutting through heavy seas. This as compared with the boxy party barge look of some of the other cruise lines ships. Part of my inner boyish desire was to stay on a “Real Ship” over a barge. The interiors were more subdued and classy which provided one with a sense of elegance over garish glitz. It depends if you are entertained by lots of flashing lights over swanky sophisticated lounging areas. Portions of the outside deck were wooden too as compared to the astro turf on other ships. If I want glitz I can go to Reno, I wanted class.
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. There was European tradition here but just enough for the American passenger. 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. I had to look down to check I was no longer wearing work boots.
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 had 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 smaller than what I wanted, 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 channel showing the pool deck looking forward. 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.
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 into the dining room dressed like the Roto-Rooter man and some ladies looked like they worked at a truck stop. Thankfully I later saw them 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. Don’t ask the waiter if your platter comes with fries. Don’t ask if there is a juke box. And leave the jeans and baseball hats at home. Plenty of kiddie food upstairs in the buffet for the rabble where you can wear a tank top. 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 togeth23er 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 happened. 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. In the dining room, Captain Hook made an appearance in a red coat, long curly hair and of course his hook with one of the ship’s photographers came in to pose and ham it up with passengers. The adults had more fun with it than the kids.
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 as a young boy my piano teacher haranguing me to soften the impact of hitting the keys to make the sound 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.
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. The upper Crown Viking lounge had a very good view of everything. Several men were enjoying their recently purchased Cuban cigars as they could not bring them into the United States. It stuck me as interesting as every once in a while outside on the promenade deck, a guy at the railing would be blissfully enjoying a Cuban cigar like he was Ernest Hemingway. I guess if I smoked I would too. Everyone here had their little island of bliss. My wife enjoyed the health spa sauntering around without our youngins yanking and pulling on her.
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.
Live music was not a high point. 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. Speaking of gall; In Boleros lounge a middle-aged couple wanted to taste test the cognacs 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. The dance club was a lot of fun. Not a meat market, but there was understandably people checking each other out. Never uncomfortably, just socially. Bar service was always outstanding. Thankfully they don’t use a pre-measured drink gun, but the old style free pour which a tip here and there always ensures the bottle hangs over the drink a second or two longer.
I was suspicious on what this would entail on this cruise. Surprisingly the truck stop waitresses now had long slinky dresses on. The Roto-man now shaved and sported a snappy neck tie. 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. The ship’s Captain Tyrm Selvag made his appearance in his white dinner jacket. A tall steely-eyed Norwegian with a trimmed beard, he reminded me of the German actor Jorgen Procnow from the Das Boot movie. That evening had good vibes. Impressive.
Not as bad as all the stories I heard. I was expecting a rickety pier, hungry dogs 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 consumed 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.
For this cruise it hit several important points I required. For one, it was cheap in relation to other longer cruises, therefore I would not be out of lot of dough if the cruise was poor. It was long enough to settle down into the routine of sailing and choosing what to do. The ship retained some classic attributes I wanted in older ships. It had a well-rounded passenger manifest to prevent being stuck with either one crowd. The ship amazingly hid most of its passengers as there was always empty space to lounge around, not bad for 2700 people milling around. The port of Ensenada was in total contrast to the horrible stories people had told me. One must always take cruise reviews with a grain of salt for they are all very subjective. Best of all was the ability of the ship to know what I wanted and when. Royal Caribbean is a well-oiled machine that knows how to push the buttons of each segment of us touristas. I would take this cruise again. So would my wife, hopefully together,,,,,,that’s a joke folks. One point about money. Given there are two different cruise lines running identical 3-4 night cruises from Los Angeles to Ensenada at the same price, one has to think what do they want to have on board versus the other. Clearly there are distinctions between the two. I would choose Royal Caribbean's Monarch of the Sea because of the class, elegance, tradition, and refinement over what the competitor offers. Not to say the competitor is any less fun. It just may appeal to a different type of cruiser than I.