I personally read 20+ reviews from traveler's on Monarch of the Seas, and thought I'd add mine. I did not spend much time on frills, format, etc. Just the story.
My wife and I had taken a cruise once before, for our honeymoon 16 years ago on a much smaller ship, the Carnival Line's Mardi Gras. Since then, we had always considered a cruise to be the ultimate vacation but it took this long to do it again. Also, now we would be going with our two daughters aged 8 and 13.
We were so excited, we could hardly sleep the night before. We had an uneventful trip down, (Burlington VT to San Juan on Continental) and as we approached the airport, we could see several cruise ships in the harbor. We were met at the gate by a representative of Royal Caribbean. Soon we were on a bus with fellow cruisers, for a quick trip through San Juan. Many buildings had blue tarps for roofs since last fall's hurricane.
We arrived at the dock about 3:00 p.m. and we were warmly welcomed by the Royal Caribbean folks. Several mentioned how glad they were to have us, as the Monarch had not sailed for about 3 months. Back in December it hit a shoal in St. Maarten, after an emergency stop there to let off an ill passenger in the middle of the night. Anyway, you could tell they were glad to be back to work.
We walked across the gangplank, mouths agape at the sight of this monster. It's huge! We were again greeted and guided to our room, #4541, on the same level we had just come in. Now, if you've been reading these cruise reviews, you know the room is small. It is. But it was fine, and if it makes cruising more affordable, then small is okay. BUT, do not bring huge suitcases that will not fit under the bed. I wish I had measured, but I'd guess about 12 or 14" is the vertical height under the bed. We brought two hard suitcases that did fit, and the rest were soft sided that collapsed. A group of 4 college age women in the cabin next to us brought those huge rolling hard side bags and had a problem storing them.
The steward takes care of the room, makes the beds, and puts them up during the day, keeps you in ice, towels, etc. Ours did not do anything special, and often forgot the ice, or the beach towels. If we could not find him, another steward was usually glad to get us what we needed even though it was not his responsibility.
I had read in a previous review to bring a night light and did. The first night we just left the bathroom door ajar, but after we went out to sea, it would swing back and forth at times, making noise and letting in too much light. So bring a night light, especially if you have 4 in a room and have to climb into those upper bunks! I also had a small electric fan that I appreciated as I like it cool. The a/c would be just fine for most people however.
There is a TV, that runs movies for the kids (useful) and you can see all the ship talks on the tv, either live or later on. They even broadcast some of the shows from the lounge.
We went back out into the terminal and bought some discounted rum, and some sodas. The check-in lines were now growing but not bad. Our baggage showed up at our room that evening.
There are many elevators, and diagrams of the ship everywhere, so you quickly can find your way around. We went to our first dinner, and boy was it good! And you have enough to choose from in every category to satisfy anyone. Our 8 year old (Katie) ordered off the kids menu most nights, but we often added an appetizer and dessert for her off the main menu. The meals were truly delightful, and the service excellent. Our waiter, Kamaal, made recommendations, gave us tips on the next days port, knew our names, learned our preferences and our usual drinks would be on the table before we arrived. We decided the first night we would not miss any dinners.
Our table mates were another family of 4, with an 8 year old son and 12 year old daughter. I think Royal Caribbean does go to the trouble to pair up similar travelers. Our table was right next to a large window. Most days we would watch the ship depart and get underway, then go to our table and watch the land disappear as we dined. The table did vibrate a good bit whenever the ship was underway.
The lifeboat drill took about 30 minutes, and worried Katie a little (saw Titanic too many times). Dads, you can even feel a little noble as the crew moves all the women and children up to the front! You wait around for a good 20 minutes or so, looking up at your lifeboat, joking, etc., while the crew checks all the cabins and makes sure everyone is participating. Your life boat number is on your life vest, as is your cabin number, a strobe light, and yes, a whistle just like Rose blew.
After the drill, the nightlife begins. But we had been up since about 4:00 a.m., so we went to bed. The ship did not leave then, as a snowstorm in the midwest caused delayed flights, and they announced we would leave later in the night, and be in St. Thomas on schedule. I went to bed wondering if I'd even know when the ship left. I woke up later to an obvious deep vibration, and swaying. We were underway! I thought about going outside to see this massive object moving, but decided against it.
The next morning, we woke to still and quiet (the room was surprisingly quiet all week, only when they dropped the anchor the last day did a ship noise wake me up). We never made breakfast in the dining room all week but the menu looked good. Instead we went to the Windjammer for a buffet breakfast because you could be served later. The usual fare, can't say that breakfast was anything special but it was quick, and would last us all day! Even 8 year old Katie would fill up on eggs, yogurt, OJ, etc and make it all day in port until dinner!
The view of the harbor in St. Thomas was all you could want! A band played shipside, there were "Welcome back Monarch" signs displayed. The Carnival Inspiration was docked right behind us too! And another ship was visible.
We took a bus/cab to Magen's Bay. A very nice beach, shade was available, the view great. Just the open air flatbed type bus that took us there was quite the steep and scenic ride. $4 each. Snorkeling was not good there, too much stirred up sand and no reefs. They had outdoor showers to rinse off in, and a beachside bar I did not visit. On the way back we got off at the shopping area downtown and got some souvenirs. Then we took a cab back to the ship. We always asked the fares, at every port, before taking a cab and were never taken advantage of.
The entertainer that night was great. He was a singing impressionist, Scott Record, and was very good for all ages. Even Katie was laughing. He was the best of the week. Others during the week were a comedian magician (good), some gymnastic brothers who flipped in the air a lot, a balancing act of a young lady and a glittery ball (not too good), the Wave Revue dancers (I did not like their first show, but they got much better later in the week), and Friday night a very energetic singer that made fun of all tastes of music but then of course would perform them quite well.
Most nights we would go to the show, and then we would put Katie to bed. I would have felt safe leaving her in the cabin alone, but we never did. I was usually tired too and stayed with her. The 13 year old soon made friends and would head for the basketball court (that's where the teenage boys were too, hmmm). Then she and her crowd would hit the midnight buffet which I never saw but heard incredible tales. We usually let her stay out to 12:15 or even 2:00, we never felt the ship was unsafe.
The next stop (Tuesday) was Martinique. Lindsay (the 13 year old daughter) and I had breakfast in the very nose of the Windjammer with a wonderful view of the approaching island. I had not read good things about Martinique, so I opted for the one and only Royal Caribbean excursion, the snorkel trip. My wife and the 8 year old stayed on the ship, had a great lunch in the main dining room, (we missed most lunches), did the pool, the exercise room, found the theater, there's lots to do. The teen and I were taken on a flat bargy looking boat (but it was spotless) across the bay to the snorkel area. You could swim into a small cave (not very dark at all as it only went in a little ways) and see (and hear!) lots of large bats! The water was clear, and the snorkeling good, although not teeming with fish. We fed the fish some cheerios we got at breakfast. When we got back, we quickly changed and walked into the port to get some souvenirs for my daughters French class. Prices were high, so she just changed some money into francs for souvenirs.
Wednesday we arrived in Barbados. A nice port facility with musicians, they gave you flowers, and there were lots of samples of local rums being handed out.
We took a cab a good 20 minute ride to Mullen's Bay, my Frommer's Cruise book recommended it for snorkeling. The beach was VERY nice, the water clear and blue, and they had a bar, you could rent chairs, waverunners, etc. I snorkeled a long time, the surf was a little bigger than I liked so I did not venture too far out. I swam to the reef (you can walk to it, so its not a matter of having to swim way out), and promptly found myself about 3 feet from a barracuda! I swam backwards. Probably startled him more than me. But it was a good reef, you could swim around the edge, and most of it was only 2 or 3 feet below the surface. In fact, I was concerned a large wave would grind me against it.
Our cab driver returned as agreed (a long drive from the terminal, and he was right on time). We were impressed by this. There were cabs available there had he not shown up. Both times we got in his cab, the 3 girls filled the back seat and I went to get in the front right side, and he just chuckled and said I could not drive without a cab driver's license. (They drive on the left there and the steering wheel is on the right).
Now, this day, there was a problem with the ship. We had not had much in the way of hot water so far, it was almost uncomfortably cool to shower. But to work on the water, they shut off the toilets. ALL the toilets. By the time we left that morning, there was no where to go! They even locked the public restrooms as they were overflowing I heard. So you had to go into the port terminal and use the restrooms.
When we got back to the ship, the toilets were on, still no hot water (in our part of the ship), and now OUR toilet would not work (the cabins around ours did). We called the purser and went to dinner, at least the restrooms by the dining room worked fine. When we got back, our toilet was now very full and I went to the purser and they got on the phone right then and sent a man down. He had it fixed in no time. Whew. We never did have but intermittent hot water the whole week, but Royal Caribbean gave us a credit on our account when I complained.
The next day was Thursday, and I got up at 6:30 to see Mont Serrat, a smoking volcano you can see as you pass by on the ship. It was actually just going by, so if you want to see it, try to get up by 6:00. Anyway, with binoculars you could see steam or smoke coming from rifts in the sides. The summit was in the clouds, and you could easily see the past ribbons of lava flow down to the sea.
It was beautiful watching the ship head into Antigua. We were docked right alongside the Celebrity Galaxy, a monster as big as The Monarch. The noses of the ships were practically touching the shoreside buildings. We walked into the town, and up a hill (it was hot) to the museum. Interesting, with a lot about slavery, emancipation, and the natives of the island before Europeans came. We walked further up the hill to an old church that overlooks the harbor. Then back down, bought Katie a little yellow dress for about $10. Back to the ship for ice cream (they set up a softserve machine and also have hard) every afternoon by the Windjammer. Sat about having ice tea and sodas.
The kids can have unlimited sodas for the week for $15, they just show a card. The coffee and tea is available 24 hrs free too but you have to go to the Windjammer to get it. There are bars and waiters all over the ship, but its about $3 for a beer, more for drinks. Buy some in the terminal before you leave. The last day we bought some fancy banana daiquiris to get the Royal Caribbean souvenir mugs they came in. They were about $5 each.
Friday we awoke to the clanking and shaking of the anchor being dropped. I got up and made my way upstairs to watch. It took a fair amount of bow thrustering, winching the chain back in, etc to anchor the ship. All day long, large tenders went back and forth to the pier. Probably 2 or 3 hundred people could fit on each tender. The wait was not long. ST MAARTEN HAD THE CHEAPEST SOUVENIRS LIKE T-SHIRTS, DRESSES, CARVINGS, HATS, THAN ANY OTHER STOP. And all the ports tended to sell the same stuff. I bought a little hand carved turtle for $4, a t-shirt for $4, Lindsay bought a skirt/shirt set for about $13. Ok, I'm cheap.
We got in a cab but the man made us wait for about 15 minutes until he could find more customers. Finally, a different driver stuck his head in our hot, parked cab, and said he'd take us to the beach, same price. This guy was great, talked the whole time, his name was "Free Willy". He pulled over to let us take pictures, pointed out the governor's house, a house owned by Sylvester Stallone, Hugh Hefner (so he said). He took us to another beach I had read was good snorkeling and it was! This was Dawn Beach. Very nice, uncrowded, a few topless women here and there. Nobody naked. Not much shade, you could rent an umbrella if you wanted. This was the best snorkeling I saw on the trip. There were even pretty tropical fish in the surf where my wife and daughter fed them cheerios.
Free Willy stopped on the way back to let us take a picture of the bay we had just left.
Day at Sea
Saturday is the day at sea. The boat goes slowly, about 10 knots the captain said on the PA. It is very warm. We slept in, went to the main lunch, and took it easy. I took Katie to the pool, and this day it was a crowded area. We also played ping pong and miniature golf (not much to report there, its hardly more than some plywood lanes with holes for the ball, but it was fine for kids).
You pack your bags Saturday night, and have them out in the hall by midnight for pickup. You have colored tags to attach to them so that the next day in the terminal you can then find your bags. I had tied fluorescent green ribbons to our bag handles to make that task easier. It worked.
We went to breakfast, and then basically just sat around the upper decks. They call out your flight numbers, and then you leave the ship, pass through customs (a wave through, for us anyway) and you are out by the busses. Most of the airlines have desks set up, and you check your bags, board a bus to the airport, and if like us, you are there about 5 hours too soon!
Our trip back was bad. We left late, and about an hour out of Newark (I hate going through Newark) it got rough, real rough. Lindsay started getting sick, and I could see lightning flashes in the clouds around us. We were just about to land, nearly touched down, and the pilot applied power and we went back up! I've not been on an airliner that had to go around again! So we bounced around some more, Lindsay got sicker, finally we landed and to make a long story short, they had to keep us overnight and route us through Chicago to get back to Burlington, VT. So we were a day late getting home.
All in all, it was a wonderful vacation. We used lots of sunblock and nobody got hurt. We all gained about 5 pounds. If you have doubts about going on a ship that takes 2500 guests, don't worry about it. It only seemed crowded on a few occasions. Most of the time you could have jumped overboard and nobody would have even seen you! You did need to go to the shows about 20 minutes or more early to get a decent seat. But even the seats way in the back were ok. Motion sickness was not a problem, I didn't hear of any complaints about that. Some guests had trouble getting their luggage, many had no hot water. That was about it for complaints that I heard about.
Saturday night they have a meeting for non US citizens to prepare them for customs. You can take excursions in San Juan on Sunday if your flight back leaves after 1:00 p.m.
Go for it. You only live once.
Don Davison is a dentist in Plattsburgh, New York and can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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