Southern Caribbean Cruise April 1998
This was our first cruise. My wife, Wendy, and I went with another couple, Len and Laura, who were on their second cruise. This review will be based on a first timer's view of cruising. We loved almost everything about this cruise and are certainly hooked on cruising, and look forward to cruising again in the not-too-distant future.
We booked this cruise in September of 1997 and had to wait almost seven months, which seemed like forever, but the blessed day did come and it was eagerly anticipated. The only thing we would change when we book again would be to not do RCI's air/sea package. Our flight left Seattle at 11:30 p.m. on Saturday and arrived in San Juan, Puerto Rico at 1:30 p.m. on Sunday. This took a lot out of all of us and we were a little more than tired with the jet lag. The next time we will do our own air package and do a day prior in Puerto Rico or Florida before our cruise.
The flights did not, however, put any kind of damper on our vacation. It was by far the best we have ever had. After arriving in San Juan, we took the short bus ride to RCI's terminal and got in a long line to board the ship. This process was not too bad, but did take about two hours -- again, not a big problem when you think there were 2500 passengers trying to board at the same time.Our Cabin
Once on board, we were taken to our inside cabin (4081) on the main deck. As we entered the cabin, we noticed how small it was, but we expected that, as we had read many reviews about the Monarch of The Seas. At first the cabin seemed to be really, really small but this feeling only lasted one day. After that our cabin was quite comfortable and the only thing I would change would be to get an outside cabin next time, although if money was tight or a problem, I would not hesitate to book an inside again. The cabin was very clean. Our cabin steward's name was Melvin and he did a fine job of taking care of our cabin. He was never seen and never intrusive, but yet, when we left our cabin dirty it was always clean when we came back. He had our routine down within one day of our boarding - it was amazing the way Melvin did his job without being seen unless he was needed, which was only twice for more ice.
The bathroom also had all we would need during our cruise, although there was only room for one person at a time. The shower was small but worked just fine and it is true what they say about the toilet: do not sit on it while flushing, or you will end up in the bottom of the ship or the middle of the ocean. On a scale of 1 to 10, I would rate Melvin an 8, and our cabin and bathroom a 7. Do not take my downgrade of the cabin and bathroom as a negative, because they were not. We got everything we expected out of our cabin and it is also true that you are rarely (notice I did not say "never") in your cabin.
The cabin also had a television on which you could see movies, and get information on the ship and all the activities going on that day, and on the excursions at each port. You could also watch news and other programming from the Midwest and East Coast. The cabin size was something I worried about before the cruise but it turned out to be just right for me and Wendy. The closet was just the right size to hang all of our clothing, with lots of room left over. There was very little drawer space, which did cause a problem.
After hanging our clothes and putting our bags (with clothing in them) under the bed, it was off to see the ship, and what a great ship she is. The Monarch of The Seas is absolutely wonderful, tremendous, gargantuan, huge, glorious, grand, magnificent, elegant, beautiful, lovely, gigantic, Titanic (oops), fun, relaxing, energetic, invigorating, massive, sleek, large, small (if you want it to be) and romantic, romantic, romantic and did I say, romantic. Wendy and I had a great time.
After being on the ship for five days we were still discovering places on board we had not been in, and we only had to stand in line twice, and that was for pictures on formal nights. The line only took about five minutes to go through; at no other time did we feel crowded, which is amazing when you realize there were 2500 passengers and almost 700 crew members on board. We all commented after the cruise that this was the case and it amazed all four of us.
The ship was immaculate and I noticed very few flaws while on board, but I was not really looking for any. I plan on cruising often and if this was the only ship to cruise on, I would gladly cruise on the Monarch of The Seas for the rest of my life.The Food, Oh The Food
The food on board was what I would classify as very good but not excellent. It was all I had expected. I enjoyed all of it, especially the fish -- I had salmon, sole, talapia (whatever that is, but it was good), trout, halibut, clams, prawns, shrimp (4 times), lobster (3 times), and scallops (twice). I also had a steak that was good and filet mignon that was excellent. The appetizers were all good, the salads were good and the dressings for the salads were wonderful, especially the raspberry vinegar and orange. Try them, you'll love them.
What can I say about desserts? Our favorite was the cheese blintzes; those things were delicious. We asked for them a second time at another meal and they brought them to us. I also liked the Key Lime pie. I had never had this before and had heard that it was good on other reviews, and it is. Also, the peach strudel and all of the ice creams and sherbets are very good. As you can see, I enjoyed the dining (I gained eight pounds). Our waiter was the best -- his name was Erkan, and he was from Turkey. He met every request and need with a smile and a joke. He really made dining in the Flower Drum Dining room an event not to be missed. We grew to like Erkan and wished we could have taken him home with us -- not as a waiter, but as a son.
While dining, if you wonder what the best choice on the menu is, ask your waiter and have what he suggests. Erkan always made a good choice and we were never disappointed by his suggestions. Our assistant waiter was Zolton. Zolton was not too swift, but did an adequate job of meeting our needs. He started doing a little better toward the end of the week. Our Head Waiter was Pierre; Pierre was fun to talk to -- he had a French accent and also met all of our needs, including OK-ing Erkan to ask the chef to give us cheese blintzes a second time. We do not drink, so I cannot review the wine steward or wines.
My rating of the food and dining experience, again rating between 1 and 10, with 10 being the best, would be an 8. I really enjoyed our dining room experience. Eat as many meals in the dining room as you can -- the food is much better than that served in the Windjammer Cafe. The Windjammer's Welcome Aboard brunch was the best food we had in the Windjammer; the breakfasts there were OK -- they served a variety of breakfast foods, dry cereal, eggs, omelets, bacon, sausage links, toast, hash-browns, fresh fruits, yogurt, and juices.
For lunch they served deli sandwiches, and french fries (which were very good) lemonade, and tea. I would rate the Windjammer's food a 4: below average, but edible. It worked out well to hold us over until the late seating for dinner.The Entertainment
For entertainment we did many different activities while on board, such as poolside dancing to the Dollar Dance, the Macarena, and others, to Caribbean music, and the Battle of the Sexes, which the men won, but only because of the kindness of the women, and this was a lot of fun. We missed the Almost Newly Wed game but heard it was hilarious.
We danced in the April in Paris Lounge to all slow music, but the music was too loud -- we asked the kid playing the CDs twice to turn the volume down, and he said he would, but he would turn the volume right back up. No one could stand to be on the dance floor very long; very few couples even danced. This was the only bad experience we had while on board; we complained at the Pursers Desk, and in the comment cards we left a long and foul note on this crew member. I hope they fire the guy -- it ruined a good opportunity to dance to some soft music with my wife, but even this did not dampen our spirits. We still had a great evening watching the moon on the ocean while on the upper deck.
We also watched three movies in the movie theatre, and we watched the horse races. We did not bet or participate, but on our next cruise we will definitely try to buy a horse. We watched the belly flop contest: those guys are crazy. We went to the art auction but did not buy anything -- good art, but we were only window shopping and trying to stay cool. I never made it to the Ship Shape center to exercise even though I am an avid jogger and love to exercise. We did a walkthrough one day and it looked OK, if you like to work out. After the jet lag wore off, Laura did work out every morning.
We did not watch the "Welcome Aboard" show, but did see the "If I Were Not Upon the Sea" show. Len and Laura thought the Cruise Director on this ship was very good. His name was Jeffery -- he was very funny and always had his audience laughing. Wendy and I just thought he was funny, and did not have another Cruise Director to judge him against. One night, Wendy and Laura went to the Comedy Show while Len and I were experiencing the casino; the casino won, but Laura and Wendy enjoyed the show. There was always something to do on the ship if you wanted; we thought we had done just about everything until we watched the video the cruise staff makes of the cruise, and realized we missed many activities. Oh well, maybe next cruise.Five Ports of Call and One Excursion
The Monarch of The Seas goes to five ports: St. Thomas (USVI), Martinique, Barbados, Antigua, and St. Maarten. We only took one of the ship's excursions, the "Americas Cup Sailing Regatta," and it was fun, but I will tell more of it later.
Our first port was on Monday, in St. Thomas. We woke up at about 9:00 a.m. and had breakfast in the Windjammer and were off the ship by 10:00 a.m. We shopped for two hours, came back to the ship and had lunch. We had wanted to go to St. John and Trunk Bay to snorkel in the afternoon, but it was too late so we went to Coki Beach ($10.00 each round trip), which was much closer, but not as nice a beach. We'll look forward toTrunk Bay next time. At Coki Beach we snorkeled for two hours; it was our first time snorkeling, and it was great. After Laura and Wendy got tired of salt water and snorkeling, Len and I decided to do an Introductory Scuba Dive.
We talked to the people at the Coki Beach Dive Club and had to wait about 30 minutes before they could give us our quick course in Scuba Diving and give us a test on what we knew, and it was in the water to dive. This turned out to be one of the top ten things I have done in my life. It was AWESOME. We dove for 40 minutes, and the next time I go on a cruise I will get certified so I can dive to deeper depths; we only got to go to about 30 feet. Snorkeling was fun, but it does not measure up to what you see and do while diving. This was a great end to a great day in St. Thomas.
Our second port was Martinique. We had heard mostly bad things about Martinique and I wanted to just stay on board at this port, but Len had a better idea: he said he wanted to go on a tour. Laura and Wendy also wanted to go, so I went on a tour, and a good thing it was. Martinique is a beautiful island with many wildflowers. I have never seen such beauty in the wild. Our tour lasted three hours and cost $20.00 each. Our taxi drivers name was Bull, and he did an excellent job of showing us the island He knew much of the history and told us all about the flora and fauna (Martinique has a lot of banana trees).
Mt. Pele was very picturesque, and we saw the prison cell that saved the only survivor of the volcano's eruption in the early part of this century. I was glad that everyone else had the sense to tour, or I would have missed the beauty of Martinique. We did not stop in the big cities of Martinique, and the people we came in contact with were friendly -- this was contrary to everything we had heard about this port. I recommend being adventurous in Martinique; if a person only looks, I think beauty can be found anywhere.
Our third port was Barbados and we went right to Folkstone Underwater Park in the morning, costing $10.00 each round trip, with a stop downtown on the way back to shop in the afternoon. At Folkstone we snorkeled for two hours, seeing many different varieties of fish and coral. The water was clear and visibility good. After snorkeling, Len and I rented jet skis for 40 minutes for $40.00 each. I had fun at Folkstone but were I to go back to Barbados, I would probably go to a different beach. None of us liked shopping in Barbados -- it seemed too commercial. The people were all dressed very well and were friendly, but this was my least favorite port. This does not mean I would not go back, it just means I would go to different places while on the island.
Our fourth port was Antigua and it was one of our favorites. In the morning we shopped and bought the usual T-shirts and junk jewelry (big shoppers) and walked around town enjoying a different culture. We went back to the ship for lunch in the dining room and enjoyed a good meal, and then it was off to snorkel. We talked to a number of taxi drivers and they suggested either Long Bay or Hawksbill Bay; we chose Long Bay, and it was a good choice. The snorkeling was excellent, the coral massive and beautiful, the fish plentiful, and the beach was picture postcard perfect. We stayed at this beach until the very last minute before having to go back to the ship.
Our taxi driver had agreed to drop us off at the beach and pick us up at a chosen time (we paid after he got us back to the ship). His name was Trevor and drove like he was in the Indianapolis 500: 60 miles per hour on very narrow roads, squealing the tires around every corner in a four wheel drive. For being laid-back people, they sure drive like they are nuts. We tried to drop subtle hints that he should slow down, but this only seemed to encourage him to drive faster, blowing his horn at anything that got in his way. We survived, and this made great conversation in the dining doom that evening. Unfortunately, talk was also about only having one more port and a day at sea before the cruise came to an end.
Our fifth port was beautiful, picturesque St. Maarten. The first thing you notice is the beautiful harbor and the blue water -- we all have decided that we want to go to St. Maarten and spend a week at a resort in that little bit of heaven on earth. If you want to go ashore, you have to take a tender. This is the only place we did a shore excursion, the "Americas Cup Regatta." We chose the early 8:00 a.m. race so we could be on the first tender off the ship, and this worked out just as planned. The Americas Cup was fun and the pictures we took on the sailboat turned out to be the best from our cruise.
If you are into shopping, save your money for this port -- you get the best buys on jewelry and clothing in St. Maarten. We all went shopping in the morning, and Wendy and I went back to the ship for lunch (because it was hot and we had gotten sunburned in Antigua). Len and Laura went to the beach in the afternoon. In the afternoon Wendy and I went back on the tender to shop some more: fun, fun, fun. I will definitely go back to St. Maarten again. If you are trying to chose an itinerary, definitely choose one with St. Maarten on it. None of us wanted to leave, because it meant only one more day at sea: our first cruise was coming to an end.All Good Things . . .
The last day on the ship was a whirlwind of activities and fun. In no particular order, we watched a movie, packed our bags to be put out before midnight, went to the art auction, made sure we saw every inch of the ship, participated in the Free Throw competition, had lunch in the dining room and said our last good-byes to our tablemates. We sat at a table for eight with Len and Laura and two other couples, who were both newlyweds. One of them was from Pittsburgh and the other from Indianapolis; both couples were fun to talk to, and had a great time on the Monarch of The Seas.
The last day we had breakfast in the dining room with Len and Laura, but not with the newlyweds -- they had early flights and did not have time to eat in the dining room. After taking pictures of Erkan and saying good-bye, it was back to our rooms to get our carry-on baggage and then to a lounge to await debarkation. Our flight did not leave until !:30 p.m., which made us the last to debark.
We finally arrived in Seattle at 1:30 a.m., taking 12 hours total time to get back home. I rate RCI's air/sea package out of Seattle between a 1 and a 0; I would never let them do our flight package again, but would sail with them again anytime. Other passengers coming from the Midwest, Southwest and East Coast had no problems with their packages, but beware if you are coming from the West Coast.
Rodney Noble is 43, Wendy is 40-something, and Len and Laura are about the same age. Rodney is a truck driver for the Boeing Company, Wendy and Laura are house MOMs and Len is a banker. If you are thinking about a cruise as a vacation, Rodney says do it if you like to be pampered and have fun. These folks are all glad they did and look forward to their next cruise on the high seas. Rodney Noble can be reached for questions or comment at: Rodney.Noble@PSS.Boeing.com.
Visit this SeaLetter Recommended Site for the best St. Thomas Scuba & Snorkel Tours
If you have any questions, comments or suggestions, please