Embarkation: What attracts me the most to cruising is it usually starts just right by opening the trunk of your vehicle and having porter service there on out without having to touch your luggage! Royal Caribbean's port at Port Canaveral was efficient for the passenger size of the Monarch. Everything was extremely quick and boarding a snap.
First Impressions: Unlike other ships, boarding is a non-event. After stepping aboard, you're entering Deck 4 where several tables were set up for add-on sales (roses, champagne/wine packages etc) and ship information. My very first impression was, "Are we the only ones onboard?" That feeling was pervasive as the ship apparently was fairly full (though not sold out) but there never was a sense of extreme congestion or crowding with only a few exceptions (see review on Dining). There was a good buffet in WindJammer and the set up of WJ was better organized than on the Voyager Class. Food was more accessible and visible as it had more stations and less of a broad single line feel. There also was an pre-sailing "Expo" of services and shipping with a "scavenger hunt" to enter a raffle. It was a good promo to get passengers a taste of what activities, shopping and services were on board.
Cabin: Our stateroom was ready and separated into two beds. The room was very tiny, as we expected based on reading prior reviews. It was not as horrible as some have described. My first reaction was it reminded me of my dorm room in college but then I refined it to feeling like my grandparent's camper from the 1970's (in terms of size, not decor!). The decor was fairly standard and the bedding updated. The beds and linens were very comfortable, there was ample storage space. My cabin-mate and I had about six pieces of luggage between the two of us and it all fit easily under the beds with no problem at all. There were 8 small drawers, two 4-shelf vanity cabinets, a bookshelf like shelf and cubby hole and storage space in the window frame. The closet was plenty big for two people with shelves and more hangers than at most luxury hotels. The bathroom was technically very clean and had updated vanity and so forth. However, shower had chipped tiles on the wall and on the floor with discoloration from wear and rust and the shower curtain had a discoloration around the bottom of it and looked like it was due for a change very soon. It was very hard to shower, change clothes or do anything in the bathroom other than brush your teeth or use the facilities. Water pressure was decent except after Coco Cay when hot water and pressure were virtually non-existent. All that said, the size of the cabin was comfortable if you have the right attitude. It's small but I thought it was fun and given the cruise fare we paid, it was more than reasonable.
Public Areas: It's obvious the public areas received recent refurbishment and dry-dock "dress up." The ship's public areas are in surprisingly fantastic shape given the age of the ship and the wear and tear a 3-4 day ship takes with the constant exchange of passengers. I was very impressed with the decor in Boleros and the updated pool deck. The modernizations of those areas made the ship look very refreshed and vibrant. The Sound of Music Theater was a pretty dated looking but sparkling new. I ended up enjoying its look as it was very "Love Boat Retro." The Viking Lounge needs very little to be striking and any decor is overshadowed by the surrounding views. The Spa was clean and peaceful, very modern as one expects. The gym was small but reasonably equipped. The casino was reasonably sized though the tables were very very full after dinnertime. The stateroom hallways were a bit grim looking but clean and refreshed; just not very well decorated.
Dining: We did not eat in the dining rooms at all for dinner so I don't have any reviews for the dinners there. We did eat in Vincent's for breakfast and the atmosphere and food were good. We ate all our meals in WindJammer cafe because on such a short cruise we did not want to be bound to the dining room schedule. Since virtually the entire dining room menu is duplicated in WJ, we didn't miss out on the food. The food was very good and every night had a great Indian selection (which I love). The atmosphere was always very peaceful and calm - far more so than the main dining room. The staff were incredibly friendly and helpful and assisted with refills, carrying dishes to your table etc. It's a great option and we enjoyed having a huge selection at our own pace. The only atmosphere issue was some areas had a very strong smell of dishwater from the configuration of the kitchens and seating area. But it wasn't terrible and I've experienced that many times in dining rooms anyway. Sorrento's Pizza was very popular and with the passengers and ourselves! This is the only criticism I have of the food service and it's a shocking one: It's possible to go hungry on the Monarch of the Seas. There were some sizeable chunks of time where the only food service was Sorrentos and a point where even Sorrentos wasn't open. There were extremely long lines for pizza after Coco Cay and during the Steeler's game. Unlike other ships, there's no other option (like a Johnny Rockets, Cafe Promenade, fast food windows etc) for something quick. While Room Service is an option, when you're in from a big day at the beach and starving, it's hard to wait for room service. LatteTudes was very disappointing as there was no complimentary coffee there but they did have complimentary baked goods.
Service & Staff: Everyone was very friendly and helpful, very welcoming. Our stateroom hostess was very nice but we hardly ever saw her after the first day. It really didn't matter that much to us though on a 3 day cruise. She kept our room stocked and made up promptly and that's what matters! If I had the choice between a hovering stateroom attendant and a virtually invisible one, I'll take the invisible one! The officers, area managers etc. were all very interested in our experience and made time to talk to passengers about our thoughts. There was more one-on-one interactions between crew and passengers which was nice.
CocoCay: Very nice and spread out, good number of activities for all. The beach bbq was not that great and was very brief (snooze you lose!). I missed the plethora of activities and infrastructure design of Disney's Castaway Cay and the lounge-chair bar service but CocoCay had as much natural beauty as Castaway Cay. I didn't mind tendering out to the island (vs Disney's dock) as it provided a really good opportunity for a photo of the ship just floating at sea.
Unique Experience: I'm not sure what degree of angle qualifies as "lilting" but we had 8-10 foot seas and when we began to approach Nassau Port and the ship took a dramatic tilt that was enough to throw merchandise off of shelves on the starboard side. One of the spa therapists told me that a bunch of products in the spa flew off shelves as well. It was very difficult to stand and felt like sinking into a very soft lopsided sofa. It wasn't scary, just very odd and somewhat interesting.
Overall Opinion: Monarch of the Seas is an incredibly good value for a short cruise getaway. While I like the other Port Canaveral ships (Disney Wonder, Mariner of the Seas) quite a bit more for amenities and activities, I also have never paid so little for a fare. Given a fare differential of a +/- $50, I would pick Disney Wonder's 3 day over Monarch's simply because the activities and cabin sizes are more plentiful (even for adults!). But given it's very rare to find the Disney Wonder for a comparable price as RCL's sovereign class ship, I'd happily board the Monarch again the next time I am looking for a short cruise.