This was the first cruise my husband and I have ever been on. I have wanted to go on a cruise for a long time, but it took some convincing to get my homebody husband to agree. We got a fantastic deal, probably because the Monarch is one of Royal Carribbean's oldest ships, and is also "small" compared to their other ships. It still seemed huge to us, and was an excellent value for the price.
Of course, since this was our first cruise, this was the only time I have been through the embarkation process. But based on our experience, and after talking to other passengers, I think Port Canaveral is extremely smooth and efficient. All of the exits leading to the docks were clearly marked with the names of the ships that were docked there, and we had no trouble finding the right dock. I was a little nervous because we were using birth certificates and drivers licenses in lieu of passports, and I know passports are recommended. However, it was no problem and we got through customs without a hitch. (Just a word of advice for married women using these travel documents, bring your marriage certificate with you so you can show your maiden name and your married name. I brought mine and the official said that made the process much easier.)
There were too many activities on board to list them all, but musical shows, karaoke, band performances, game shows, trivia, poker tournaments, scavenger hunts, comedy, and miscellaneous contests such as a belly flop competition and a "World's Sexiest Man" contest were some of the events on the ship. I have to give credit to Marc the cruise director for the funny and intelligent way he hosted the events. He made all of the games he hosted twice as fun. But the funniest guy on the ship was the assistant cruise director, known as "Erky from Turkey". He has a dry sense of humor and uses his accent and Turkish heritage to poke fun at himself and the audience. If you are ever on an RC cruise and Erky is hosting an event, go. You won't be disappointed.
I will say that some of the other activities staff who handled various trivia games need to brush up on their English or at least read the questions before hand. Several of them could not pronounce common words and had no background information regarding the American culture questions that were being asked. Where Erky plays up his accent for laughs, others truly had no idea what they were even reading.
The service on the Monarch was excellent. The stateroom attendant and the waiters were all very attentive and accommodating. We chose the "My Time Dining" option so that we could change our dinner time as needed to allow us to attend the events we wanted. However, in the future I don't think I would choose this option. We still had to call and make a reservation each day, so it wasn't as if we could just show up when we got hungry. Next time I will just choose the 5:30 seating since that seemed to fit the best with our schedules and appetites.
I thought the food was good, although my rather picky vegetarian husband was less impressed. They actually did offer several vegetarian choices on the menu each evening, but my husband usually just ended up hitting the buffet. According to some veteran cruisers we talked to on the ship, most other cruises offer a wider variety of food than we had, and I heard complaints about the lack of choices at lunch time. However, we both ate such big breakfasts everyday that we were never hungry until dinner time. We didn't eat lunch on the ship once. Again, for the price we paid for this cruise, I can't complain about the food, which was good at worst and excellent at best, in my opinion.
Our stateroom was more than adequate, for the amount of time we spent there. We had a very comfortable queen size bed that we both slept very well in. The room-darkening curtains over our window were so effective that at one point I thought it must be the middle of the night when it was actually a very sunny 9:30 am. Some people on our deck (2) had issues with their toilets not flushing throughout the cruise, but we never had a problem. There was plenty of closet space and enough drawers for all our clothes.
As far as entertainment goes, my husband and I did not attend any of the shows in the theater, as that is not our thing. The band performances ranged from mediocre to good, but they were always fun.
Disembarkation was even smoother than I hoped. We chose to carry our own luggage, and we got in line with the other guests who were doing the same at about 8:10 am. (Disembarkation began at 8:00.) We were off the ship, through security, and loading our car by 8:30.
All in all, it was an awesome experience, and I can't wait to do it again. Unfortunately, it is doubtful that we will ever sail on the Monarch again, since she is being sold to another cruise line.