Monarch of the Seas - December 14 - 17, 2007
Day one - San Pedro
This is my eighth cruise, third on Royal Caribbean, second on the three night Ensenada route (the prior one was on Carnival in January 2001) and my first time on the Monarch of the Seas.
As has been the case since my fifth cruise, I type my review while on the ship, as things are still fresh in my mind.
I live about 45 miles from the port, so I drove to the ship. I was planning to arrive at 11:00am, but ended up leaving late and hitting some traffic. I arrived at 11:30. By 11:40 I was checked in and waiting to board the ship. Boarding began around noon and soon I had put my carry-on in the cabin and was exploring the ship.
This cruise was a kind of a spur of the moment cruise for me. After taking only four days off to visit family for Thanksgiving, I still had one more day of vacation I had to use. Unfortunately when I booked there were no cabins on deck three left (or right) so I ended up on the bottom passenger deck - deck two.
I knew I was close to the water line when I found a note in the cabin that said to make sure that there was nothing on the floor, which could be damaged by salt water, during high tide. The cabin is small, but it might not be the smallest I have been in. My first cruise was in an inside closet for two weeks in Alaska on a ship that was built around 1957 or 1958. At least I have a window, or port hole actually, this time. This ship was built in 1991 and there is no safe in the cabin. Other than that the cabin is big enough for me.
I am not thrilled with the lay out, of the ship, as there are a couple of quirks. For example, deck six exists in the front of the ship only. Mid ship and aft there is no deck six. Another quirk is the aft elevators don't go down very far and the mid ship elevators don't go up very far. Only the forward elevators go from the bottom all the way to the top. At least you can go all the way from bow to stern on all the decks (except deck six of course). I don't like the ships with mid ship restaurants that prevent someone from going from bow to stern on the deck where the restaurant is. Another thing I like is that this ship offers night time rock climbing hours. It is nice to see that they are making an effort to given everyone a chance by offering more hours. Sure enough, I note several people giving it a try as we are moving down the channel toward the open sea.
Another thing I noticed is that this ship has a full promenade deck. That is good news for joggers and power walkers. However, since there are cabins below the promenade deck, no jogging or power walking is allowed between 10pm and 10am. I also noticed that there are ocean view cabins that look over the promenade deck. The problem is, if the people inside can see out, then the people outside can see in, which means you have to keep your curtains closed if you want some privacy, which means you cannot look outside your window.
I must say, the staff seems very friendly. All cruise ship staff are friendly, but this crew seems to be going a little above and beyond.
After exploring for a bit I decide to grab some lunch. The buffet seems a little small, but I was there twice (I got a snack around 4:00pm knowing that for the first time I had second seating for dinner) and I never had to wait for more than one person in front of me, so I guess size is not everything.
Being that it is winter, the sun set soon after the 4:30pm muster drill. However, the ship did not sail until 5:30pm, so we exited the harbor at night. I could not even see the breakwater, but as long as the captain could, I didn't care (just for the record, we did not hit the breakwater on the way out).
Well, given my later dinner time, and the fact that there is nothing to see outside except black, I decided to return to my cabin and work on my review. My room steward, who I met earlier, has already turned down my bed, given me my shore excursion ticket, and of course the Compass for today and tomorrow. One thing I note (and I don't like it) is that there is only one show for everyone (not two shows, one for each seating). So I'll join everyone else in the theatre at 7:45pm, and dinner is at 8:30pm.
One nice thing about a three night cruise is it is easy to unpack. Since I was fairly early, my checked luggage made it to the cabin before the muster drill, so I unpacked in less than ten minutes. I could have packed everything in a carry-on if I did not have to pack for formal night. Speaking of which, I got a little scare when I looked in my bag did not see my pants for formal night. I know I packed them. Then I realized, my pants were the same color as the bag, and sure enough, they were there. Then as I type this I realized I did not unpack my formal night shoes. After thinking I forgot them I realized I had not, the shoe bag, like the inside of the rolling duffel I am using, is black. Sure enough my shoes are there too.
Well, looks like I have taken 199 photos so far, and it is 7:30pm, time to check out tonight's show.
The show tonight was pretty good, and the comedian was funny. After the comedian finished his routine the cruise director wanted to make some announcements, but half the people got up and left. The cruise director asked why everyone was leaving, and everyone responded the same - it is time for dinner.
I am at a table for twelve, and there are nine people there. Great tablemates, though we have broken up into two groups, four on one end and five on the other. One of the people looks just like the guy who stole Woody in Toy Story. Dinner was very good, perhaps the best I have ever had with Royal Caribbean.
Well, after dinner I walked around the pool deck for a while. We are just passing San Diego, though we are too far out to sea to see anything other than the glow of the city lights. So now I'll take a look at my pictures and then turn in.
Day two - Ensenada
Normally I get up in time to catch the sunrise, but today I slept in. It is only three nights, so I figured I better get into relaxation mode early. I looked out the window and I could see the wake. I took a shower and when I looked out the window again there was no wake. We were already in the harbor and maneuvering to dock. Well, the captain was on time. Not hard to do when you have fourteen hours to travel 200 miles.
This morning's entertainment was a young girl doing the Hokey Pokey. Obviously she was excited about her chance to do a little early morning swimming. I thought she might be in for a cool surprise, so I watched as she put her right foot in, then she put her right foot out, then she shook it all about. Then she headed to the hot tub. What can I say, I enjoy the simple pleasures. In case you are wondering, no, the pools are not heated.
I went up to the Windjammer and once again there were no lines. After a quick breakfast that included eggs that were not runny, I went out to the take a few pictures of the Carnival Paradise, which beat us into port today. Then I looked down on the dock to see what was happening. It is only 8:15am and people are already walking off the ship. Fifteen minutes to clear the ship - very impressive.
As I leave I notice that someone is being loaded into an ambulance. I don't know what happened, but it reminds me that I am glad I bought insurance - just in case. So I decided to walk along what looks like a new Malecon (I am not sure of the exact translation, but it is like a boardwalk along the water front). It is so new that some of the stores are not open yet (still under construction). On my way back I come across a dog lying on the sidewalk, a few feet from a cat on the bench, which is a few feet from the pigeons that are also on the sidewalk. The scene was so strange I took a picture of it.
Then it was back to the ship to relax before my excursion to Bufador (the blow hole). We had a great guide. I am amazed at all the stores that have opened up near the Bufador. So I asked the guide about this and he says that some days there are thirty buses. If you want to buy something in the stores, don't forget to bargain. The price of a 49ers poncho that I only wanted to know the price of went from $40 to $25 as I walked out.
The guide said that the restaurant next to the bus had very good tacos. The best tacos I have ever had were in Puerto Vallarta. However, as the guide said, these were very good tacos. I'll rate these tacos second best, but still much better than the tacos at Taco Bell.
I also decided to have a churro (a Mexican donut - except it is long and skinny). However, it is much too big. So ask the woman who made the delicious tacos if her young daughter would like the rest of the churro (she said yes and the girl enjoyed it).
Then I decide to explore that area around the parking lot, as we will be leaving soon. As I walk around a corner I notice a zebra statute. Soon I notice a second one. Then I notice the second one is moving. I am amazed that there is a live zebra standing around a parking lot in Ensenada waiting to be petted. Nonetheless, I cannot resist. But as I get closer I begin to realize that this zebra looks a little different than all the other zebras I have ever seen. For one the stripes do not look right. Then I notice the ears. Biggest ears I have ever seen on a zebra. I quickly come to the conclusion that this is a donkey painted (dyed?) to look like a zebra.
When we are all loaded back in the van I ask the guide about this "zebra." Soon everyone in the van is interested, so I talk the guide into taking a short detour through the parking lot to the zebra. Already clued in, everyone in the van has a good laugh and then the guide takes us back to the ship.
We made it back to the ship before 2pm, so I decided to walk back into town. After all that walking, I decided to check out the pool. However, what felt cool to the touch this morning was a little too cool for the body this afternoon, so I decided to spend a little time in the hot tub, which felt really good.
Then after catching a movie, I went to the store to get some souvenirs for some of my co-workers, then back to the cabin and worked on my review. I'm still getting used to the late dinner. I grabbed a snack on deck at around 3:45pm knowing full well that I still had well over four hours until dinner. But now it is time for a picture with the captain (again, just one opportunity for the entire ship (instead of two - one for each dinner sitting). Speaking of pictures, the prices are much too high. $20 for the embarkation photo. $10 for the Ensenada shore side photo. $17 for the pictures taken during the first night's dinner. As a result, so far I have only posed for only one photo (last night's dinner) and have not purchased any (and usually I like to buy a few pictures). We will see out the captain's photo turns out.
We were talking about the photos at dinner tonight. A couple had three pictures taken at dinner, one of the couple and one of each individually. If they wanted to buy all three, that would cost over $50. Two people who were at dinner last night did not show up, but two people who apparently had a tiring trip to the ship did (they were asleep before dinner time last night).
Dinner was very good again. However, the portion was a little small. Since I knew I could ask for seconds, it was not a big deal. Nonetheless, since I enjoyed the pool side snack around 3:45pm, I was not in any danger of starving. However, to my surprise, the waiter came around as said she notices the small portions and offered me more, which I gladly accepted.
The ship is old (not that that is a problem), and I am not crazy about the schedule (although at least tomorrow's farewell production show is offered at two times). However, the staff on this ship gets it right service wise. I'll make sure they know I noticed tomorrow when it is time to pass out the tips.
The captain's reception was the standard fare, but the captain showed that he has a great sense of humor. I wonder if the great service on this ship is coming from the top down.
When I returned to my cabin, I found a monkey hanging from my ceiling. Well, I am looking forward to about 32 hours of nothing to do but rest, and then it is back to the real world. Though this was just a last minute trip to use up one more day of vacation time, I'm glad I came if for no other reason than the great service I have been getting.
Day three - day at sea
Today I woke up early enough to catch the sunrise, but I decided to sleep in. I'll catch some sunrises on my next cruise (in February 2008 - which will be 13 nights). I just want to relax on this trip. Around 9am I decide I should get up. That is when I notice something strange. The sun is coming through my window. I'm on the port side, and when headed north the sun should not come through the window until the afternoon. I look outside and I see no wake. I can't believe he did it. The captain said he would find a calm sunny spot and stop the ship. I figured he would just continue to head toward Los Angeles at a reduced speed.
Well I shower and dress and head up for a quick breakfast of bacon and non-runny eggs. I decide to eat out on the pool deck and I guess everyone learned their lesson yesterday. The pool is not heated and no body is swimming. So it's down to deck seven to look out over the edge of the ship and sure enough, we are stopped dead in the water.
Down to the logo shop for some souvenirs for myself and some co-workers, and then back to the cabin. The tip envelopes are here, but where is my vouchers? I don't like to carry around more cash then necessary, so I charge my tips to my on-board account, though in this case I am going to double everyone's tip (with cash) to reflect what great service I received.
So up to guest relations and there is a long line. Not good that there is a long line for such a simple question, but since I am in relaxation mode today, I don't mind. But wait, there is someone else asking a question about tips, and the person helping her is not behind the counter. When she is done I can ask my question and not have to wait in line. So I ask and I am told the vouchers will come later. She then admits it is a bit confusing to receive the tip envelopes early and the vouchers later. Agreed.
It is kind of ironic that after such great service the only mistake they make is on the very thing that is use to provide positive feed back for that great service.
Back to the cabin and I check for a move I want to watch. Unfortunately that channel does not seem to be working this morning, so I check out the football game. Nothing really interesting, so I decide to go up to the pool deck and see what is happening. Now there is some action, so I go back down to the cabin and into my swim suit.
I didn't intend to spend much time in the water, so I didn't bring a water wallet. The only problem is, when I ordered the drink yesterday, while in the hot tub, I had nowhere to keep the receipt. It is okay for the room key to get wet, but the receipt will turn to mush if it gets wet. Next time I am bringing a water wallet no mater what.
I test out both pools, but they are still too cold, so I go into the hot tubs. Unfortunately there are only two, and it can sometimes get a little crowded. Still I am amazed at the lack of crowding on this trip. There was never a line in the Windjammer, and the pools area has not been overrun either. I could always find a prime deck chair whenever I wanted. Yet, as far as I know, the ship is sold out.
After too long in the hot tub I am feeling a bit too warm (though my muscles are feeling better), so I decide to try the pool again. To my surprise I am now warm enough to handle the pool and spend a few minutes swimming. The pool is fairly deep (67 inches), and I can float standing up with out touching the bottom. Though I never feel too cold, after a few minutes I decide to spend some more time in the hot tub. The staff set up another pool side BBQ again, so I decide to have a hamburger, hot dog and BBQ chicken. The hamburger and hot dog were standard fare. The chicken was good, but the best BBQ chicken I have had was on the Norwegian Star.
Then it is back to my cabin to catch a movie, Bourne Ultimatum. It just came out on video and it is a pretty good movie. While I am watching the vouchers are slipped under the door. I want to catch the production show at 7pm, so I decide to pack, which doesn't take too long (one advantage of a short cruise). Then I type this, and I still have 25 minutes to show time.
Well, finally got to see a full show of singing and dancing. I like the high energy shows, and this show had plenty of energy. Basically they did a bunch of songs from the 70s and 80s. The music and singing was great, the choreography was average. So overall I would give it about 4.5 stars.
I see my room steward has already turned down the bed, left a frog on my bed, picked up his tip (which I taped to the mirror) and left the guest satisfaction survey, which is good because I only have a lot of positive things to say about this staff. Well, dinner is in ten minutes, so it is off to my last supper for me.
Dinner was very good again. I had the steak, but two slices would have been better than the one I got. Still, I had a big lunch, so no need to order seconds. After dinner the entire dining room staff danced for us, and then everyone (staff and guests) danced. A great end to a great time.
Day four - debarkation
Well, we arrived at the dock before 6am. I woke up before 6am and we were already docked. At 7am all the TV channels changed to the debarkation information. That is when I suddenly remembered I don't have my statement yet. I looked under the door, where I found my vouchers, but it was not there. I opened the door and looked around, but did not see either the statement or my room steward. I looked back in the cabin and there it was on the floor. I have no idea where it was (on top of the door perhaps?) but it was not on the floor before I opened the door.
Everything was correct, but the last entry caught my eye. How could two cans of Coke that were in the room (called the mini bar on the bill, but there is no in room refrigerator) add up to $4.03? $2.02 for the first can and the second can was on special for $2.01? I suspected a 15% gratuity had been added, but that did not make sense. The person who "served" me the can is already getting a tip. Nonetheless, after reading the card that was on the cans it does say a 15% gratuity would be added. Now I wonder, who gets the 15%? The room steward? Some unknown bar staff? The cruise line itself?
Well, I am driving home. My luggage tag color is pink, but there is no list to tell me where that fits in the scheme of things. When I drop off my guest satisfaction survey I ask and find out that my color is last. The estimate is 90 minutes, as the first color had just been called at about 7:25am, it will be around 9am for me. Perfect. I'll miss most of the rush hour traffic, get home by 10, change and make it to work by noon, which is more or less a normal day for me.
Well, it is 7:50am and they want everyone out of the cabins by 8am. As I head up to the Windjammer for a last meal I notice what might be a very long line on deck four, the debarkation deck. Four colors had been called by 8am. It is now 9am and no new colors have been called. I wonder what is going on down there (I'm up on the pool deck now).
Finally at about 10am they finally call my number. I finally clear customs around 11am and drive home. I quickly change into my work clothes and head to work. The next day (Tuesday) I want to give out the shirts I bought for my co-workers and then receive a rude surprise. Though all the shirts have taped on labels that say XL, two of the four shirts that I bought have sewn in labels that say small. Next time I'll check the sewn in labels. Fortunately for me, if I cannot find two people who wear men's small, my travel agent is going on the Monarch in February and will exchange the shirts for me then.
For me it was a very relaxing enjoyable weekend. If you are considering this cruise, I hope you find this review helpful. However, keep in mind that it is simply the observations of one person on one cruise. Still, if you are interested in this cruise, you better act fast. The Monarch of the Seas is moving to Port Canaveral in October 2008 and there are no plans to replace it here in Los Angeles. After that time, the only three and four night Ensenada cruises will be offered by Carnival out of nearby Long Beach.