This was my first 3-night trip in 8 years, and I wasn't looking forward to spending so little time on board, but it was a nice albeit weekend escape.
We drove down the day before and stayed at the Motel 6 in Harbor City, right off of the 110 freeway and a short 10 minute drive to the pier. Wasn't a four-star hotel experience, but it was clean and cheap (62.99 for two people). It's right next to an AM/PM mini-market and a Carl's Jr., and walking distance to a K-Mart, Target, Taco Bell, McDonalds, and Dollar Tree.
The weather was rainy and foggy on the way down, but cleared up nicely, so the entire cruise ended up being sunny and pleasantly warm for December.
We left the hotel on embarkation day about 11:15am and got to the pier and parked about 11:30am. Compared to my experience on the Monarch 4-day trip earlier this year, everything was much easier at the pier. Parking was plentiful up close to the berth. Porters were standing around waiting for anyone to show up give them luggage; there were no lines of people anywhere. The same was true for check-in and boarding; just walked up to the counter and had a choice of agents, and after checking in we essentially just walked over and got on board.
The ship was pleasantly decorated for the holidays, with streamers and baubles up the centrum stairs and various decorated trees throughout the ship. Many common areas, such as the centrum and windjammer, had gingerbread villages as well. The food on the cruise, as always, was plentiful, tasty, and well presented. How they can manage this consistently while feeding thousands seven days a week is beyond me. The breads they bake on board, in particular, are spectacular! The only things I found slightly off were the cream of asparagus soup at lunch and the NY strip steak at dinner, both in the dining room. The soup was hardly creamy, and actually looked almost exactly like egg flower soup (though it was tasty). The steak on the last night was a little dry and not particularly flavorful, which I found odd as I had had an open face steak sandwich at lunch that same day which was simply exceptional.
Bar service throughout the lounges and theatre was much better than on my last trip; waiters seemed to be plentiful everywhere, attentive to everyone, and generally in a good mood. And the drinks were certainly well made.
For our trip to Ensenada, getting on and off of the boat was as last time very quick and easy. We actually went on a walk along the bay a bit before going back to meet for our Taste of Mexico tour at 10am. Surprisingly, the tour was small, as only 11 people had signed up. But that made for a nice intimate trip, and the excursion, despite costing $37 a person, was actually quite enjoyable. We started with an hour long bus tour through the popular shopping areas and town, with a bit of history thrown in by the guide, before going to Mango Mango. At the restaurant, we were escorted upstairs where we sat at tables each containing bowls of ingredients, a cutting board, and some basic utensils. We preceded to make pico de gallo from scratch, followed by guacamole, tamales, and tostadas, and all of it was quite tasty. It was nice that each individual person had their own materials, so they could add things like salt and peppers to taste. On the down side, the ingredients of the tamales and tostadas were mostly pre-prepared, so it was more of assembling food than cooking food. But it was fun, and in the end I was glad we did it. After the restaurant we had a couple of hours to shop before our bus took us back to the ship.
On our sea day, we tried to hit several different things on board. We took a backstage tour of the Sound of Music Theatre, which was brief but interesting, went to the art auction (and bought a couple of Brodinsky works; never thought I'd be buying art on board!), and went to the casino a little bit, as well as the evening theatre and comedy shows and the Quest. All in all it was a very enjoyable day on board; there were actually more things that I would have liked to try out that I never got around to. Maybe next time...
For disembarkation we chose to carry our own stuff off for the express option. We actually almost missed it due to sleeping in, and they started just before 7am and were doing last call around 7:20am. But there were no lines whatsoever, unlike our last Monarch trip where lines weaved throughout three floors of the ship. I hope it's like that when we go again...
So that's it in a nutshell, it was a great trip and certainly one worth taking. The ship is in great shape for its age and cleaner than you'd expect for it's age and constant use. The crew was as always exceptionally friendly and helpful, and attended to every need and wish.