First let me state that I am a fan of Royal Caribbean cruises. I've sailed on the Mariner, Brilliance, and now the Monarch. While the Monarch is the smallest and oldest ship in the fleet of 22 ships, it is still a nice ship. While I prefer larger ships, smaller ships can have some advantages.
Transportation to the ship:
We took this cruise out of Port Canaveral. If you are flying into Orlando airport, skip the expensive transfer fees and rent a car. We rented a car from Enterprise for $35 each way while transfers are around $70 a person each way. You can drop off your car and have the rental car company take you to the port for free. On your way back, take the rental car shuttle to get another rental car and return to the airport. This will save you some major cash if you are traveling with other people.
Upon arriving at the port, we started the check-in process. This process went very smoothly and we were on the ship within 15 -20 minutes after arriving. Considering there are multiple check points for security, a stop to register and get your seapass cards, a photo opportunity, and luggage drop off, I consider this outstanding. Just a quick note to say we are crown and anchor members but this only saved us about 5 minutes.
When we first entered the ship, we skipped the "Get your first $10 Bahama Mama" station right inside the door and went to our room. This was the first time I've stayed on deck 2 and actually had something other than an inside room. We don't spend a lot of time in our room, so we usually save money by getting cheaper rooms. When we went down to the 2nd deck, there was a smokey smell as if someone had been smoking in the hallway for hours. It was disappointing, but we didn't let this ruin our outlook. The room was small but most of them are no matter which ship you sail on. Even though this ship is 21 years old, it looks like the staff does a great job maintaining it for the most part.
This ship has 2 dining rooms, speciality restaurants, a cafe, spa, fitness center, arcade, theatre, rock climbing wall, basketball court, 2 pools, 2 hot tubs, 24 hour soft serve ice cream and pizza (for the most part), shops, Seattle's best coffee, Ben and Jerrys, a ton of bars, conference center, and a nice centrum. I'm sure I'm missing something. However, due to its age and size, it does not have some of the features that the larger ships have including an ice skating rink, wave rider, minature golf, inside pool, or a Johnny Rockets. With that being said, it had enough to keep us entertained.
My wife and I felt the staff was very good. Our stateroom attendant wasn't the friendliest attendant that we've had before, but she did a nice job of taking care of the room. The wait staff was very good and friendly. Everyone we talked to on the ship was very helpful and friendly. The Cruise Director (Marc) was funny.
The usual activities were included on this cruise. These included the belly flip contest, shows, trivia, sporting events, love and marriage game show, etc. We actually did a digital camera scavenger hunt which was a lot of fun. My wife entered and won the "finish the lyrics" competition.
On our first full day, we stopped at Coco Cay. This is RC's private island. We were the only ship at Coco Cay this day which was nice. I've heard there can be more than one ship at the island which would lead to it being very crowded. Since we were the only ship, there were plenty of chairs, tables, and hammocks. This island has several beaches, a ton of chairs, hammocks, and amenities. There is a straw market, places to rent items, bars, and lots of places to relax. RC does a BBQ lunch on this day which includes hamburgers, hotdogs, ribs (which were outstanding), drinks, salads, desserts, and sides. This was a great lunch. They also put on a competition while you are eating. One thing I will warn you about is that the seagulls are VERY aggressive. They will steal food off of your plate while you are walking. This was a nice relaxing day.
The 2nd day on the cruise was in Nassau. It is only 60 nautical miles from Coco Cay, but the ship doesn't arrive till the next morning. The captain told us that we would sail there but then just drift for awhile. My wife and I decided to go for the expensive trip to the Atlantis which included the Aquaventure water park. We've never been to the Atlantis and the tv commercials make it look amazing. To tell you the truth, it was amazing!! Yes, it costs $159 a person but we had a great time. Included was transporation, the aquariums, the water park, the beach access, and the pools. They have DJs playing by the pools. The waterpark has the most amazing lazy river (not that lazy) with a conveyor belt that takes you to the slides. No need to get out of your tube!!! All and all, you may be able to do this cheaper, but it wasn't worth the headache. I can't wait to go back.
The last full day was spent at sea. This means you can either relax by the pool, read, sleep, take part in one of the many scheduled activies such as trivia, etc. My wife and I chose to have a couples massage. It was fantastic. Yes, you pay more on the boat, but cruising isn't necessarily the best vacation if you're trying to save money.
Leaving the ship:
We decided to carry our luggage off of the boat since we had an early flight and needed to get moving. There were a lot of people doing the same thing. However, the line moved very fast and the process of getting through customs took about 10 minutes which 8 of these minutes involved walking through the terminal. Very quick process
While I like larger ships better, this ship was still very nice. You could tell that it was older, but well maintained. The staff did a very nice job and the itinerary was nice for a 4 day cruise. My other cruises were 7 days, and 2 - 13 day cruises. With this being a 4 day cruise, it went too fast. In the future, I will book a longer cruise.