Number of Cruises: 2
Cruise Line: Royal Caribbean
Ship: Monarch of the Seas
Sailing Date: 2005
Itinerary: Baja, Mexico
My wife, in-laws and I just got back from a wonderful 4-night cruise on the Monarch of the Seas. We highly recommend this ship!
The rooms were small of course but not cramped, and they were nicely decorated. We stayed on Deck 6, which you should avoid because the rooms are directly below the promenade deck on deck 7 -- which is used as a jogging track from 10 AM to 10 PM! So if you like to take naps (like we do), you'll wake up to the pounding sound of joggers overhead!
The food was much better than expected (and I'm kind of a food snob), and we chose to dine in the dining room every night. The buffet was best for breakfast and lunch, but the dining room offered much fresher choices for dinner. Although the selections were mostly the same at both locations for dinner, the dining room offered more options and the food was prepared fresh (not just sitting under heat lamps). The menu offered 4-star descriptions, and the taste of the food was usually 3 stars or greater. A lovely surprise! We loved most of the soups, the filet mignon was excellent, and the desserts were always good, especially the cherries jubilee! And they allow you to order as many things as you like. Often the appetizers were so excellent I would order 4 of them and no entree!
The buffets were also good (not excellent), and the late night pizza was good enough. We also enjoyed the late night dessert buffet (only one night from 11:30 to 12:30), complete with gorgeous ice sculptures. Get there early or you'll miss the best part: strawberries dipped in hot chocolate fondue.
There's always plenty to do on the ship, and all of the staff were very friendly to us. The pools and Jacuzzis are open until midnight, the shows were exactly as you would expect them to be (they're well done if you like that sort of thing), karaoke was fun, the bars are nice, etc. The fitness center was excellent and never crowded, and we got some delightful (but expensive) massages and spa treatments. Use of the hot saunas are free--they're located by the fitness center entrance.
Avoid the computers as their online connection is sloooooooow and costs 50 cents per minute. It'll cost you 3 bucks to find out you really can't successfully check your email.
My wife and I opted not to get off the ship in San Diego or Ensenada, but Catalina was wonderful and we strongly recommend renting a golf cart to drive around the island for an hour or two. There are three companies that rent them ($30 per hour) and you'll probably have to walk down to the furthest one (just 4 blocks) to find one available. My wife's parents really enjoyed the winery tour in Ensenada, and recommend that.
We recommend the 4-night over the 3-night cruise, because you should know you won't be doing any relaxing on the first or last day of the cruise! The first day is a busy one, with boarding procedures, getting to the lunch buffet on time, then going through the (slightly unnerving) emergency lifeboat drill. By the time you've unpacked and looked around the ship a bit you'll be exhausted. So don't plan on getting any relaxation the first day!
On the last day, they should tell you that all passengers will wake up at 6:30 AM. All passengers must vacate their rooms by 8 AM, but the frequent and loud announcements start going off at 6:30. So try not to stay up too late the night before, like we did!
Disembarkation may take a while, as they have ten different luggage tag colors, and you can only get off the ship when your color is called. Your luggage was picked up outside your room the previous night, so after waking up at 6:30 AM you make your way to the final early breakfast buffet, which only goes until 8:30 AM on the last morning. You are then instructed to wait in one of the large public areas until your baggage color is called. The order the colors are called is listed on a card you'll get on the last day. (You will find that all of the luggage is waiting when you get off, so if you really want to get off the ship before your color is called, you shouldn't have any problem.)
A tip about customs: When you do finally get off and go through U.S. customs, you'll go through much quicker if everyone in your party has a U.S. Passport. (If any person in your party doesn't have a passport, you all have to wait in the "long" line, which will take an hour or more longer!)
Enjoy your cruise -- we'd definitely take this one again!