After what I considered a disastrous first-time cruising experience, I decided to try one on my own to see if it was either the company that I'd had on the first one, or if I really didn't enjoy cruising as a vacation option. The verdict is: I'm still not sure.
Air arrangements were made through RCCL, and it was well executed. I had a good flight both to and from Port Canaveral, and the amount of waiting time wasn't too long, so that was a good thing. Embarkation at P.C. was very smooth, much smoother than my experience at Baltimore. I was able to get into my cabin before 1pm, that's how quick it went.
Assigned cabin #5057. It was a decent-sized cabin, but I was sailing single. I do not see two people in this room by any means. The bathroom was small to the point of being claustrophobic. There were some issues that I had with the cabin, however. The toilet was not working properly (it did not have enough water in the bowl) and was not fixed by maintenance until the third day of the cruise (out of four). It wasn't to the point where I was unable to use it, but I still feel that too much time had passed before it was repaired. Also, on the last morning, I actually found a baby roach crawling about on the vanity table!!! I was NOT PLEASED with this discovery, and you may rest assured that every piece of clothing and every pocket of my luggage was searched before it was packed - that's the last thing I need to bring into my house.
RCCL has my comment card regarding the above issue.
Room steward was non-existent. I met him but his name was unpronounceable and he made no effort to say hello or get to know me very well on the cruise. I was actually very disappointed in that, as I tip the cabin staff VERY well on these trips (I know they work very hard). He could have gotten more than I gave him, had he made an effort...
The food was okay, but some variety is sorely needed in the WJ/buffet area. Very little in the way of fruit and vegetable dishes, heavy on the meats and starches. I was very disappointed in the selection, especially during the breakfast meal. It just seemed to be the same things over and over again. I would have enjoyed some more ethnic-oriented dishes. The Indian selections were very, very good. I did not try Jade, though I wanted to - perhaps if I cruise on Monarch again, I will make sure to do reservations.
Make sure that you find a seat very, very early during your days at sea, because all of the deck chairs will be full by 9am and people WILL NOT move, not even if you ask politely.
The service on this ship was definitely not up to par, compared with my cruise on the Grandeur a year ago. On my first cruise, the employees practically bent themselves over backward to help you, sometimes when you didn't even want it. The opposite happened on the Monarch - you were pretty much left to fend for yourself. I did notice that there were a LOT of staff members sort of "mumbling under their breath", which was an absolute shocker after the impeccable service I received on the Grandeur. I did NOT expect RCCL staff to be that sullen and unenthusiastic. I purchased a Coke package - with this package you are expected to ask staff to refill your Coke bottle/glass every time you want one. There were actually a few times that I skipped out on the soda that I wanted because I felt like I was BURDENING the staff by asking. This is not the service that I have come to expect from RCCL.
A positive note: there weren't as many annoying announcements over the loudspeaker on this cruise as there were on Grandeur. The CD usually made one or two announcements, and that was it. That was a refreshing change from the first cruise, where bingo seemed to be announced every two minutes.
Ports were just okay. I'm not a fan of hot weather, so the islands actually weren't my first choice for an itinerary. I did not like being accosted the second I got off of the ship in Nassau for drinks/taxis/guides/etc., etc. If I need help, I ask for it - otherwise I dislike being approached. But I know that they're paid to do that sort of thing, so I just let it go. I did not get off at CocoCay - just didn't see anything interesting there to do or look at.
Disembarkation was a breeze. I used the express service and was on the bus to the airport within 5 minutes.
I took advantage of the 100.00 deposit offer for another RCCL cruise, but I have the option of canceling it. I do not know at this time if I will keep the booking or not, because the two cruises I have taken with RCCL have been so different from each other that I still can't honestly say whether or not I enjoy this as a vacation option.
I guess the third time will be the charm.