Two friends and I took the 3-day cruise to Ensenada on the Monarch of the Seas the weekend of April 4-6, 2008. Overall I'd say we had a decent time. Nothing spectacular, but it was fun nonetheless.
Rooms/accommodations: We reserved the low-end interior stateroom and although it was small and cramped it worked for us. Three guys all over 6-foot were able to stay semi-comfortably in this tiny room (it probably didn't hurt that we spent little time actually in the room). It had fold down beds so no one had to sleep on the floor. I was impressed with the bathroom, it was kind of like a Toyota Echo, very small on the inside yet almost magically comfortable. Wouldn't recommend it for a family of 5, but it worked for us. As for the rest of the ship, my one complaint is that at least twice the sewage system backed up or something and it got pretty smelly on deck for a couple hours. I heard a lot of people complaining about that.
Entertainment: Was pretty good. I never got to catch one of the shows at the theater, but I did catch a comedian one night in the nightclub and he was funny. There are three bars and a nightclub which also has a small bar. "Schooner Bar" was the fun bar where people went to party, "Boleros" was a little more formal and upscale with a piano player, "Viking Crown Lounge" had no excitement but a nice view making it good place to relax, and the nightclub was just that- a nightclub. I took part in karaoke twice at the nightclub which was fun. The casino was of ample size and quantity of games (blackjack, roulette, craps, slots, and I think they had three-card poker), and the poolside entertainment such as steel drum bands and a flair bartending demonstration was cool.
Food: The food in the main dining room was very good. I have a steak one night and chicken the next and they were terrific. The buffet was acceptable, probably not Vegas quality but still a decent meal. Room service is 24 hours and from about midnight until breakfast it's the only thing to eat on the ship. But it was weird, they have a room service menu in your room which lists a variety of items, but when you call to order they tell you they only have two: a burger and a chicken sandwich, or something like that. Overall I was satisfied with the food.
Service: The service at the restaurants was just fine. But the service at the bars was awful. I always had to wait at least ten minutes to be served when I sat down at the bar. And it didn't matter whether the bar was crowded or not, the bartenders seemed so busy making ice and stocking shelves that they don't seem to have time to serve you. And they weren't even friendly for the most part, just all business. Definitely the worst part of the trip. The activities organizers were all fun people, most are from Caribbean islands where they know how to have a good time. Tips are expected from just about everyone (bartenders, waiters, room service, room stewards) but sometimes they aren't deserved (at least not from the bartenders).
Prices: The cruise itself was reasonably priced, we got an interior stateroom for about $150 a piece. But the drink prices were way too high, at least for me. About $5 for a Budweiser ($4 each if you buy a bucket of 5), a little more for imports or higher-end beer, and even more for shots and/or wine. Two shots of their lowest-end vodka cost me more than $10. Maybe I'm spoiled because I live in Las Vegas where if you're off the Strip and paying more than $2 for a beer you're in the wrong place. For someone outside Nevada, the drink prices probably seem more reasonable. But with prices being what they were, my little $150 weekend ended up exceeding $400.
Activities: At first there will seem to be plenty of activities, but as the trip goes on and you've had a chance to try most of them, you'll get bored. The rock wall is cool but short so if you're in any kind of shape it won't be as exciting because it doesn't post a challenge. Basketball and dodgeball games occur periodically on the sports deck and draw a nice crowd. Ping pong is tough because the costal breeze blows the ball all over the deck. The pool is nice and fun to hang out at or swim in, during the day there's usually a lot of people out there. You can socialize or sunbathe but it might be too cold to do the latter, even in the summer. And there's always the casino if you haven't blown all your money on drinks. Every few hours they have a trivia game in one of the bars and they were always fun and lively. I took part in several and enjoyed them. But if this cruise had been any longer I would probably have gone out of my mind because it seemed like I'd done everything there was to do onboard by the middle of the second day.
Safety: About a half-hour or so before setting sail they drag everyone out to the deck and give an unnecessarily long presentation on safety. It's a little inconvenient because (a) first you have to go all the way back to your room to get your lifejacket, and (b) the meeting seemed to take way too long. Shouldn't take 30 minutes to teach everyone how to put on a life vest and tell then what lifeboat they're assigned to. Of course, maybe I'm just jaded because my so-called best friend chose this time to tell me he's dating my ex-girlfriend (I dunno, am I naive for thinking your friends should respect you enough to not go out with your ex?). Which kinda soured my mood for the rest of the trip and definitely did not leave me with fond memories of the safety meeting. I say make the safety meeting optional: you skip it at your own risk. Like when you fly and they take you through the safety card, where paying attention is optional.
Offshore: We got roughly 7-8 hours offshore in Ensenada on a Saturday afternoon. We walked around for a while and ended up in the tourist district, where we went to Housong's for about a half-hour, then across the street to Papas-N-Beer where we stayed for several hours until we had to go back to the ship. Papas-N-Beer is definitely not for families or people who are easily offended by raunchiness. Fortunately we weren't.
Boarding/Deboarding: Boarding was fine, deboarding was hell. Getting on the ship was not that much different than boarding an airplane. Go through security, run your bags through x-rays, get your picture taken for your ID card, get in line to board, and board. Simple. However, deboarding was a major cluster. It takes way, way, way too long. You can imagine that it takes hours to offload several thousand people through one door. We were in line to deboard by 7:30 a.m. and we still had to wait more than an hour to get off. And there was a lengthy line behind us. I don't even want to think about how long they had to wait. I recommend making flight reservations for the early afternoon at least because it takes so long to get off the ship.
All-in-all, if I had to go again, I would. But: (1) I'd try to sneak some booze onto the ship so as to avoid pay for overpriced drinks; and (2) I'd pick better company to go with. No more going with friends who are waiting for me to get drunk so they can drop bombshell news on me. Not that that's of Royal Caribbean's fault, I just wanted to vent. Overall it was a good time, but I had twice as much fun when I went to an all-inclusive resort and would recommend them over a cruise.