It's only fitting that this cruise started a short freeway drive from Hollywood; this cruise could have been a setting for a TV show or movie script. Imagine two families united by their kids getting engaged and invited to cruise and celebrate the future bride's birthday. It becomes a group cruise for 16. Both families have 4 kids, three girls and and guy for hers and the mirror image 3 brothers and sister for his ... and their ages pair up! These families have never met before and only a few have been on a cruise before.
I'll leave out the intrigue and other family particulars. The news here is that this was a fantastic cruise. As opposed to everyone else in our party we've cruised many times before and we probably would NOT have chosen this one had it not been for the Bride's initiative. We prefer 7 day cruises and the Southern California only itinerary on the Monarch seemed boring. But wow, were we surprised.
I grew up in LA and I knew the freeways very well so getting there was not a concern. The port of entry at San Pedro is easy to find near the end of the 110 Freeway but then again I took the first exit to Harbor Blvd not the second one as should be. So we had a short tour of San Pedro and frankly this LA hamlet is NOT a pretty sight. But we got back on track and on the ship pretty quickly. The Monarch is good ship. It's certainly not brand spanking new nor a 100,000+ ton behemoth. But upon embarkation it looked clean and fine.
The food variety on the Monarch buffet is excellent and right up there with our favorites on Celebrity and Carnival's Conquest class. I'm partial to having Asian selections at the Buffet, and the Monarch has the best I've seen with Japanese, Chinese, and East Indian options. As an Asian I would say these were very authentic. If they ever add Vietnamese Pho they would have a grand slam in my opinion. I found the classical fare selections to be excellent. We found the forward section to be less crowded but had the same selections. The only fee extra cuisine was a Sushi place on the forward 12th floor. We only sampled the Sushi and it was good and not over done hand roll spectaculars that seem the rage these days.
This cruise had the most diverse and youngest guests we've ever seen. If you are the sedate oxygen bottle type this is not your crowd! We hear that the weekend 3 night cruise is even more raucous and booze filled cruise.
Our ocean view 8th floor room at 8032 was very good quite room mid ship though a bare minimum. No sitting area other than the bed and one chair at the desk area. There aren't many balcony rooms on this ship and the few suites ARE on the bridge deck. I suppose it was an old design of 15+ years back. Our window had a nice view between lifeboat bottoms and we could see the wrap around jogging deck below which seems to be where smokers congregate. Our beds were good and we ensured they were great by brining along our own 2 inch memory foam. The room had a tube style 13 inch TV perched up on a corner. The shower had good, but not abundant, water flow with no long wait for hot water. This cruise line does not supply amenities at all just skinny soap bars and on the wall liquid soap.
Dinners were very good. The formal night selection included Prime Rib; good but not remarkable. Always a top sirloin choice at every dinner. Service was excellent but the staff did make it clear that business was not good on a ship that largely.
The San Diego stop is somewhat a non event for us as we know the town well. We met friends on shore for lunch, toured the Midway Aircraft Carrier, and walked to the downtown Westfield shopping center.
Catalina as a BLAST! Or group did many tours, rented bikes, and snorkeled the small beach at the North end. While I grew up in So Cal and never visited Catalina before and now regret that. It is a really a wonderful place and now at the top of cruise stops visited. The ocean water magical blue color and crystal clarity rivals any. The only minor inconvenience is the long tendering process getting back to the ship. The tendering ferries holds 500+ so checking back on board can take 30 minutes.
ENSENADA is a town I've known for 30+ years. For most people I am sure this place is not going to be their top choice. The cruise terminal is quite nice but a mile walk to the town. Lots of hawkers, begging children, worthless trinkets, and bland scenery make it difficult to find the nice places. BUT if you know what to look for, here are the world's best Fish tacos, clam cocktails, and cheap liquor. And of course there are the Pharmacies that dispense the ED drugs (e.g. Vigra.) We had an expedition for all 16 of us that I put together. We rented one of the large vans from the shuttle fleet for $200 for the day. It could probably seat 30. We took it to Puerto Nuevo 40 mile north of Ensenada on the the scenic toll road. This highway straddles cliffs like Big Sur and goes along the ocean view route. At Puerto Nuevo we went the the original #1 lobster restaurants. They serve the largest lobsters left on the planet; 2-3 Spiny pacific pounders deep fried and served with the best tortillas you will ever have and rice beans salsa. Seven large lobsters at $30 each were more than enough for the group. Mariachi live music and $1 beers. This was the most unforgettable event for all of us.
The weather was outstanding. Warm but not hot. Perfectly calm seas. Blue skies. Great times pool side. The ship goes so slow you hardly knew when it was in open water.
Luck was with us as well. The engaged couple won the free cruise at Bingo. MY wife won the Poker tournament. And I think my other sons also got lucky, if you know what that means!
It seems that this family get together was truly unforgettable and filled with moments we may seek to re create the rest of our lives.
Thanks to RCCI, the Monarch and the crew for being a wonderful host.