We sailed on RCCL in Feb 2012 on the Jewel of the Seas and in Dec 2010(Christmas) on Freedom of the Seas. We knew going in that the Monarch was an older and smaller ship. Having read other cruisecritic.com reviews I knew the ship would be worn. So let me begin by stating the things we did like:
1) Boarding was quick for Gold level and heard from others who went thru main check in say it was fast.
2) The cruise was a good length for our purpose - to celebrate our son's 21st birthday. My son and 27 year old daughter were in a separate cabin.
3) We liked our cabin stewart very much. On other cruises we weren't overly impressed by our steward. We tipped him an add'l $20 at the beginning of cruise to make sure ice was in our room twice a day with an extra bucket. There are no room frigs on this ship and we bought a case of water from RCCL. We prepaid gratuities.
4) We finally got to see Coco Cay, even though we had to change our sea day. In Dec this was on the itinerary, but tenders could not make it in.
5) $50 for upgrade to clam shell and private area with upgraded lunch, floats, water and fruit plate for a party of two on Coco Cay was worth every penny
Things that couldn't be helped but not so great:
1) Size of the cabin - smaller than on other ships in their line
2) Age of ship - wear showing in public areas
3) Relaxation area and amenities lacking in the spa
4) Outdated decor
Things that could be helped and were not:
1) No black napkin on formal night and waiter acted like inconvenient and didn't know if he could find one
2) Signed up for yoga on Coco Cay and in a class of five the instructor failed to ask what level the participants were at. Proceeded to conduct an advance "yoga" class that was more about strength and balance.
3) We have dined at Portifino's and Chops on both the Jewel and Freedom. The quality of food and service have always been worth the up charge. The only choice on Monarch was Jade. A sushi steakhouse. Sushi was passable. The steak was old and not great texture. Then we had to cook it on a volcano stone, good idea in theory but crazy to execute. The vegetables accompany the steak(carrots, broccoli, onion, and potato wedge were precooked and you had to warm them. Let me tell you there is not a reasonable way to warm a potato on a slab of rock next to a slab of meat. We complained to our server about the food and she didn't volunteer to bring the manager nor did a manager come over. Next day went to Gold level service desk and received only a sorry but no suggestion on how to resolve our feelings about upcharge dining. Next day went to guest services and received a partial adjustment for the meal. Also, instead of a flat up charge fee like RCCL's other fine dining options this was up charge ala carte. A bit out of step with how other ships handle it.
4) Appeared to be a tight budget on this ship. For instance, on other cruises on 70s night the staff would give out light up rings, etc. This was a no frills event on Monarch.
5) The cashier in the photo area was not very friendly.
6) Due to the physical layout of the ship disembarkation was cumbersome.
7) I did not like any of the food or desserts on the ship in the main dining room(which we ate almost all our meals in) other than salmon for breakfast, and eggs Benedict. I found the entrees to be salty, or of poor quality. Again, a step down from other ships. However, the wait staff did try their best to accommodate selections, remember our names, and little preferences.
I think this cruise is best suited for younger couples or groups.
Saw a guy wearing a cruisecritic.com t-shirt by the pool and thought about sharing our experience here when we arrived home.