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Cruise Ship Review
Royal Caribbean International

Monarch of the Seas

by David Gudas

Southern Caribbean Cruise January 1998

This was our first cruise, and we departed from our home in Maine just after the famous "Ice Storm of ‘98". January weather here or at some connecting airports can easily muck up a trip by delaying flights and we didn’t want to take any chances of missing the boat!!!

We therefore initially opted to take the two day "Pre-Cruise Package" RCCL offers, and were originally booked to spend the two nights prior to our cruise at the El San Juan Hotel & Casino in Puerto Rico at a total cost of $698.00 for the two of us (no meals or anything included).

We decided after booking this package that this was a bit pricey and that we didn’t really need such an ultra fancy hotel to stay at. We had planned on taking in some of the sights in the city of Old San Juan during our two days before the cruise, and therefore figured we would essentially only be using the hotel solely as a place to sleep.

We then did some Internet research and found that a newly constructed (opened Summer 1997) Hampton Inn was almost exactly across the street from the El San Juan Hotel and Casino and that a nice room at this Hampton Inn went for $154.00/night. This meant an immediate overall savings of $390.00 for that two night pre cruise stay. We had our travel agent cancel the "Pre-Cruise Package" at the El San Juan Hotel & Casino, and we had her reserve a room at the Hampton Inn for our two nights before the cruise.

The weather never did play any part in disrupting our travel plans and we had a smooth an uneventful flight to Puerto Rico, arriving a full two days before our cruise departure date. The mid 80’s and humid air of Puerto Rico were a real change of pace. When we had left our home in Maine that morning at app. 4:30 AM the temperature was about 0 degrees.

Friday - January 23, 1998 - Welcome to Puerto Rico

Once at the airport in Puerto Rico there were greeters from RCCL looking for those individuals partaking in their "RCCL Pre-Cruise Packages", but since we had made our own pre-cruise plans, we ignored them and went to claim our baggage.

While awaiting our baggage to come up on the baggage carousel we were approached by an authoritatively uniformed woman from the Tourism Dept. who was brandishing a placard that read "Ask me about Ground Transportation" or something along those lines. She asked if we were planning to use a taxi that day, and we told her we were. She then pulled out her pad and after learning what part of Puerto Rico we were headed for and how many bags we had, she filled out a small 3 part form on her pad, and explained that one copy was for the driver of the taxi and one for us, she kept the third copy.

The form spelled out where we were going, and exactly what the fare would be (without tip). I guess this procedure stems from taxi drivers down there perpetually ripping off the unsuspecting tourists. I liked the procedure!! I urge anyone blindly headed off to Puerto Rico in this same manner as we did to seek out these uniformed people upon arrival, and get it in writing!!!

After a wild and fast ride via taxi, we arrived at the Hampton Inn which was as nice as we anticipated, it was air conditioned, was clean, it had a pool, it offered continental breakfast etc.

We soon learned more about that area of Puerto Rico when the bellboy brought our bags to the room. He told us that right outside our window was the cockfighting ring. Sure enough when we opened the drapes and peered out the window their loomed Club Gallistico, a large building with huge parking lot, with the words COCKFIGHT RING written on the side of the building. The parking lot was surrounded by chain link fence topped with curled razor wire. Our bellboy gave us a tip...."always bet on the brown (Rooster) bird!"

We unpacked and went for stroll around the neighborhood. We seemed to be about the only tourists around, and as we walked towards the ocean which was only app. 3 blocks across the street from the Hampton Inn we became more and more leery of the area. Everyone’s property was surrounded by chain link fence with gates secured by heavy locks, barbed wire and razor wire encircled the tops of most of the fencework, some more lavish decorative wrought iron fences had sharpened tips adorning their tops. Every public parking lot in the area was gated and had a security guard present.

We did make it to the ocean but were uneasy about all that we had seen enroute to the ocean, and none of the beaches in that area looked appealing anyway.

Back at the Hampton Inn we met Barbara & Steve from New York, they were in town to sail on the Carnival Ship Fascination on that Saturday. Barbara had stepped into a pothole while walking the same area as we were in, and was nursing her bruised knee back to health in the lobby at the Hampton. Barbara shared with us that she had been warned by some locals to not sport jewelry (necklaces etc.) in this area of town, lest they be grabbed right off her neck.

It was still daylight and we headed off to get something to eat before darkness came, and the area became more enthralling. We ate at a Ponderosa Restaurant just down the street, and enroute we met one more group of American tourists who were staying at the El San Juan Hotel & Casino. They advised that they had ventured over to the Ponderosa to avoid buying the $30 steaks being offered at the El San Juan.

 

Later that same Friday night we received a call from Randy and Deanna from Denver, CO who were a couple we had met via the Internet. They were going on this same cruise as us, and had also arranged to take a two day stay in Puerto Rico before the cruise. They had made reservations at the Wyndham Old San Juan Hotel & Casino located at 101 Brumbaugh Street, San Juan, Puerto Rico 00901.

Randy said that they had rooms overlooking the harbor, and that they were only a hundred yards from the cruise ships and docks. He described the area as being full of tourists, no barbed wire, and made it sound pretty darn nice!!!

Rhapsody of the Seas Docked in San Juan

Randy managed to secure us a room at the Wyndham Old San Juan Hotel & Casino for the next night. All the arrangements were made through a very pleasant helpful woman named Lessie from the Wyndham. We then canceled our second night stay at the Hampton Inn and made plans to move on over to the Wyndham Old San Juan Hotel & Casino. This later turned out to be one of the best moves we made.

Saturday - January 24, 1998 - Old San Juan here we come!

Upon waking up and enjoying a continental breakfast at the Hampton Inn, Barbara & Steve (the NY couple) gave us a ride with our baggage in their rented car to the Wyndham Old San Juan Hotel at 9:00 AM that Saturday morning. We arrived too early to check in at the Wyndham, and so we stowed our luggage in Randy & Deanna’s room, and took off to see the sights of Old San Juan.

There was a big difference between this area of San Juan, and where we had been staying. Everything was an easy walk from the Wyndham and the tall close buildings and thin streets make it easy to walk in the shade most of the time. There were many things to see, from the thin sidewalks and shops, to the old forts throughout the area. We walked up to the biggest and most famous fort El Morro, but didn’t venture inside that day. We stopped in a supermarket and picked up some things we would need on board. We also visited the RCCL Crown and Anchor Club and ate lunch at the Hard Rock Cafe both of which are a very short walk from the Wyndham. We spent the afternoon swimming and sunning at the 9th floor pool of the Wyndham Old San Juan Hotel.

This pool is outside and the patio and deck surrounding it on the 9th floor afford the most magnificent of views of the harbor in Old San Juan.

All the docks, terminals and cruise ships from the Carnival, Royal Caribbean and Princess lines were visible, and from this 9th floor vantage point they were so close that we actually believe we could have thrown a rock and hit the Dawn Princess which was the ship closest to us.

On that Saturday tied up at the piers were the ships: Fascination, Rhapsody of the Seas, and the Dawn Princess.

Saturday evening Randy and Deanna received information on where to get a good seafood dinner and took us out for that seafood dinner. As an example of how the taxi’s operate it cost us $6.00 to get to the restaurant, and on the return trip the next driver insisted on $10.00 for the trip back to the Wyndham. We mentioned the discrepancy to this second driver but he didn’t budge in light of this revelation. We didn’t figure it was worth it to argue the issue to excess, so we took the ride.

We struggled to stay awake Saturday night to watch the cruise ships leave, and they usually pull away from the docks between 11:00PM and 1:00AM we were told. They all ended up leaving the docks at app. midnight.

The 7th floor room overlooking the harbor at the Wyndham ran us $170.00/night which was $16.00 more than the Hampton Inn’s price of 154.00/night. The Wyndham offered the Continental Breakfast like the Hampton Inn but was still a better hotel in a much more picturesque and safe area. The Wyndham also had drip coffee makers and safes in their rooms, unlike the Hampton Inn. The Wyndham was well worth the money. If we ever return to cruise again from Puerto Rico, we will absolutely, positively be staying at the Wyndham Old San Juan Hotel & Casino again.

Sunday - January 25, 1998 - Embarkation Date

Sunday morning dawned bright and sunny, and this was our departure day. We ate breakfast at the Wyndham’s Restaurant which had an outdoor patio on the 2nd floor overlooking the harbor and cruise ships. We saw that new ships had replaced those that left the evening before, and at the docks this day were the ships: Inspiration, Monarch of the Seas & Norwegian Sea. We then learned from the bellhop at the Wyndham that on cruise ship departure days, the lines to get on board become long and dreary. Although check in on the Monarch of the Seas was not until 1:00PM he suggested we get there early (app. 11:30 AM) an avoid a longer wait by showing up at 1:00PM.

We had to check out of the Wyndham by noon anyway, so we took the bellhop’s advice. We packed up our things later that morning, and hired a cab to take all our luggage to the Royal Caribbean terminal. We actually could have walked our luggage over to the terminal, but it might have meant two trips through the hot 85 degree sun, and no-one felt like going through that aggravation. We had ourselves and our luggage at the terminal at app. 11:25 AM.

Once at the terminal an onslaught of baggage carriers are there to assist you. Some have badges hanging from cords around their necks identifying them as Royal Caribbean employees, and some are there on their own. My advice: Don’t let anyone without a Royal Caribbean employment badge around their neck touch your luggage!

Some baggage handlers insist on $2.00/bag to carry your luggage all at once on their cart into the terminal, some charge $1.00/bag and some just are happy to get any tip you offer. Being new to the whole business, we thought they were all Royal Caribbean personnel and the first guy we encountered stated it would cost us $2.00/bag to have him grab our luggage and bring it inside the terminal for loading onto the ship.

It wasn’t until much later after watching several transactions with other baggage handlers and other cruisers that we realized we had been taken, and that we had an option to have had the luggage brought in for half the price. I tried bringing this pricing discrepancy among the baggage handlers to the attention of several important looking Royal Caribbean people that were in the terminal, but they didn’t seem phased at all. They advised that not everyone handling the baggage is from their company, and they have no control over it.

We waited in the air conditioned terminal until app. 12:30 PM and then they started letting us through to get on board. We ended up actually being the first people to board the ship. Just before boarding we had to stop at one of about 12 booths set up in the terminal to create our Super Charge for the cruise, and for them to look over our papers, birth certificates, licenses etc.

Once on board we combed quickly through the ship, grabbed a Shore Excursion sign up form from the Shore Excursion desk and ate lunch in the Windjammer Cafe. Once the sheet is filled out, there is a box you can drop off the completed form at the Shore Excursion desk, and I assume they get handled on a first come first serve basis according to how they fall into that box.

We didn’t have problems getting any excursions we asked for, and did not encounter any passenger who couldn’t get any excursion they had asked for either. I imagine there were some, but we didn’t meet or hear of any.

We then left the ship and went back into the terminal and at about 1:30PM there was very large swirling line of people waiting to go through the booths where you show your papers and set up your Super Charge account. We were glad we came early!! In the terminal we checked out the duty free shop, and picked a couple of six packs of soda in the shop by the front doors of the terminal. The soda there went for $4.00/6-Pack which was a little better than RCCL’s price of $1.50/can in the cabins. We had our Cabin Steward remove RCCL’s soda display from our room.

Our Cabin Steward was David Charles from St. Vincent, and he was most accommodating. He knew our schedule rapidly, and did his thing when were gone. The room was always meticulously kept. We had him keep it couches by day, and a Queen sized bed at night. He even learned that we went ashore at every port, and left large pool towels for us each day in the room.

Royal Caribbean will also do your laundry while on board, and their charges for that service run something like this:
To Wash: Shorts-$2.50, Shirt/T-Shirt-$2.50, Jeans-$3.00, Socks-$1.00, Dress-$5.00, Blouse-$3.50, Skirt-$3.50, Swimsuit-$2.00.
To Dry Clean: Suit-$7.00, Pants-$4.25, Shirt-$3.50, Evening Gown-$8.00, Dress-$7.00, Blouse-$4.00, Skirt-$4.50,

In the late afternoon we received our luggage and unpacked. We were in room # 5514 on the Showtime Deck (up in the port bow of the ship), which is a Category F cabin with a big oval window. The room was somewhat small and was said to be 15’9" x 7’7".

There were not many drawers in which to store clothes. Shelves in the closet and some improvising got us through that dilemma. My only other complaint would be that when they make the two couches into a queen size bed, the bed reaches both walls from head to toe. In order for the person on the inside to get out of bed in the night, they have to precariously crawl over their partner rather carefully, as there is no alternative way out of that bed!

The TV in the room had many informative channels about the ship and its operation and offerings, it had a continuos movie channel, and it also carried two networks NBC and CBS. The NBC station was from Eerie, PA and the CBS station was out of New York. The stations came in even when we were bouncing around at sea!

Speaking of bouncing around at sea, the first few nights we were headed into the wind and waves and the ship had some quite noticeable motion to it, but after we turned around on Wednesday in Barbados, the ride became much smoother. Also when the islands are close together, the ship travels more slowly. We only met one lady who complained of seasickness.

The Suprbowl was on that first Sunday evening 1/25/98 and it started at 7:30 PM (Atlantic Time) and was playing in several of the lounges and in the Sound of Music Theater on two big screens. We happened to have had the best of both worlds this first evening as we were able to enjoy our first dinner in the Flower Drum Dining Room as we were scheduled for Main Seating which was at 6:00PM.

We met our Waiter: Theodore "Theo" Cardoso from India and our Assistant Waiter: Rafat Yaman from Turkiye. The Head Waiter and Senior Assistant Maitre D was Francoise Wache from France. Nice people who made the week very enjoyable. They work hard at what they do, and they were always cheerful and ready to help. After every meal Theo would give us a verbal rundown of the happenings the next day and that evening, and make recommendations based on what other passengers on past cruises had enjoyed. He was very helpful.

After dinner we went and watched the Superbowl and only missed the first 5-6 minutes of the game. We were the only ones at our table for six.

We watched the Super Bowl in the Sound of Music Theater and with the large crowd, frequently cheering, it made it feel like you were at the game somewhat. Needless to say when the Royal Caribbean ads (they sponsored the half-time show this year) came on, the people were all cheering!! The game didn’t end till somewhere around 11:00 PM (Atlantic Time) and the Captain even held off on the lifeboat muster until the Superbowl was completed. This was something that crew did not think he would do.

 

Once the game was over the lifeboat muster was held promptly, and that took about half an hour. Since we were up and it was near midnight, we checked out a midnight buffet in the Windjammer, and could only manage to eat a piece of pie. Then it was off to bed.

Monday - January 26, 1998 - St. Thomas

We watched the Monarch of the Seas pull into St. Thomas this day, and the views from the upper decks of this ship are astounding! We ate breakfast in the Windjammer Cafe, and that was about our last meal we ever ate there, the food and service in the dining room was always top notch, and that’s where we headed every mealtime.

In St. Thomas that day, with us were the ships: Regal Princess and Inspiration. We later heard that the Regal Princess had run aground while entering the harbor that day, and had needed a tug boat to nudge it back into the channel. That was big news in St.Thomas.

We took the Buck Island Sailing & Snorkeling Tour in St. Thomas. We had brought our own snorkeling gear because we had several of these snorkel trips planned, and we didn’t want misfitted gear etc. We got into a dinghy right near the cruise ships and took a short ride out to the 41 foot sailboats moored in the harbor. We were on the Triumph II with Captain Jack (retired roofer) and his mate Steve (from England). There were only 6 of us tourists allowed per boat, and we had a wonderful time as Captain Jack shared his experiences with us while sailing out to Buck Island. Captain Jack actually lives on his boat, and his wife Lynn runs their other boat a duplicate sized boat called the Triumph. They have been doing this since app. 1991.

Once at Buck Island we snorkeled for about an hour. We saw many fish along the reef there, as well as an octopus, stingray, green sea turtle, and some folks even saw a barracuda. Steve was in the water with us and gave everyone a tour as we snorkeled along, explaining what we were viewing etc. The sailing back was smooth and fast, and along the way we observed a rather large sea turtle that had surfaced for air. A very nice trip!

Once back on shore we had been told that Magen’s Bay was voted one of the prettiest beaches in the world by National Geographic magazine. We skipped lunch and took a cab ride over to Magen’s Bay to find out for ourselves. Magen’s Bay was on the other side of the island from where the ships were docked, and the ride was worth the trip, as we got see much more of the island, as well as the steep, thin and winding roadways these islanders must use, Also in St. Thomas they drive (rather crazily mind you) on the left side of the road, which is very unusual if you haven’t experienced it.

We thought Magen’s Bay was pretty, but did not consider it to be the prettiest beach in the world. The water there was calm, and slightly cloudy compared to elsewhere in the Caribbean. I snorkeled around the edges a little bit, but did not observe anything unusual or interesting. They will serve you food and drinks there, and there are restrooms.

Upon arriving back at the ship we got into our formal attire, and headed off to the Captains Cocktail Party. We shook hands with Captain Tore Nervik and thanked him for postponing the lifeboat drill the evening before, in order to let us all see the entire Superbowl. He didn’t have much of a chance to say anything back as the impatient ship photographer snapped our pictures, and shoed us onward with his waving hand.

The Captain gave an interesting speech at the Cocktail Party and we learned that the ship was making its 320th voyage with our cruise, that we had 2,501 passengers with app. 1,900 of them from America and the rest from 34 different countries. The crew numbered 800+ and were from 52 different countries. Our oldest passenger was 91 and youngest was 14 weeks.

We also learned that the Monarch of the Seas has 4 engines that generate a combined 29,000 horsepower, and it consumes 1,200 gallons of fuel per hour when underway.

We had dinner in the dining room and were joined by two ladies who were part of a group of eight others, from whom they had somehow been separated in the assigning of these dinner time seats. The Maitre D fixed their situation promptly and we were once again alone at a table for six. We didn’t mind.

That night Herb Reed (one of the original Platters) and the new Platters put on a show that lasted an hour. If you liked the Platters music at all you will find this show fantastic and shouldn’t be missed, they only did the show one day during our cruise. Apparently they move from ship to ship during the week.

Tuesday - January 27,1998 - Martinique

We ate breakfast in the dining room, the breakfast menu never changes, as everything you would ever want for breakfast is on there. It was excellent.

We didn’t arrive in Martinique till around noontime, so in the morning we watched the horse racing they ran on the pool deck, and just walked around the ship.

The only other ship visible in Martinique when we docked was smaller vessel called the Flamenco. After docking we had a quick lunch in the dining room, our waiter Theo really moved lunch along as he knew we were pressed for time. We then headed out for The Martinique Snorkeling Tour. We had read much about Martinique being an unfriendly nasty place, and so we opted for an RCCL tour so we could at least get off the boat, and see some of Martinique for ourselves in the safety and uncomfort of a big mob of other tourists.

Martinique as seen from Deck 11 of the Monarch of the Seas

The Snorkeling Barge was named the Sea Punch and it held app. 50 people rather comfortably. We boarded the boat right from the cruise ship pier, so we never did see much of the actual island of Martinique. The two men running the Sea Punch didn’t appear to speak much English, and after handing out the snorkeling gear on the ride across the bay, they simply anchored at the base of a giant cliff that overlooked the bay. They gestured toward two large outcroppings and told everyone to stay within the confines of these locations, and to return to the boat when he blew the horn. That was it! No further instruction on how to use the gear, no warnings to not touch or destroy the reef, no warnings about what can happen if you touch poisonous urchins or coral....if you were a novice you were in some trouble, but if you knew how to snorkel (which we did) this place turned out to be the best!!

The coral and fish were abundant, very colorful and picturesque. The water ultra clear! There was even a cave filled with bats that you could enter. This was far and away the best snorkeling we experienced during the entire cruise! We wished we had remembered to bring some bread or cereal to have fed the fish.

Once we were back on board the Monarch of the Seas we watched a little ice carving, and got a snack in the Windjammer Cafe. We then watched the ship leave port as it pulled out at 5:00PM which was just before dinner for us.

We ate dinner in the dining room and met Paul and Bill from New York who were our dinner table partners for the rest of the cruise. They were very pleasant people and made for excellent company the rest of the week.

That night we also played the Ship’s scheduled trivia game and came in third receiving Royal Caribbean coolie cups, bronze medals, and key chains as prizes. Some of the questions went like this: 1) What do cities, songs and noses have in common? 2) What does a twig of laurel, a twig of oak and a flaming torch have in common? Answers: 1) They each have bridges. - 2) They are all on the back of a dime.

We then watched the Wave Review Dancers show that evening. They are a talented crew, but we thought the show was a little juvenile and not presented in any coherent order.

We went to the midnight buffet this evening, as it was held in the kitchen, and my wife wanted to see the kitchen. It was spotless, and the oriental buffet had carvings of ice and butter adorning it, and it was delicious....like we needed to eat it!!!

Wednesday - January 28, 1998 - Barbados

Barbados can fit many cruise ships in their port. On the day we were there, the ships: Fascination, Emerald, Black Prince, and Norwegian Sea were in port with us.

The walk to the Barbados terminal and to weave through the terminals shops and stores to get to the cabs is rather long. I estimate it was 1/4 to 1/3 of a mile in the hot sun. We had no excursions planned and we grabbed a cab to take us on a tour of the island for an hour. The driver wanted $10/person to do this. We drove by many beaches, cane fields and some hotels, saw the Westmoreland golf course, as well as actor Tom Selleck’s home. We saw outlying towns, and many examples of every day life in Barbados. Very interesting. They also drive on the left side of the road here, but don’t seem as crazy.

We were dropped off in the town of Bridgetown and we shopped a little, and walked back to the ship.

Note: Barbados makes a very nice, large, highly detailed, free map of the island with all its offerings in the margins. It is called the Barbados Holiday Map and it is published bi-annually in January and July. For further info. on the map, (and possibly to get one mailed to you), they offer an E-Mail address of: cot@caribsurf.com - It’s a very nice thing to have beforehand.

We watched the ship leave Barbados from the Viking Crown Lounge, and then headed off to dinner in the dining room. The ship rode much smoother now, as the waves and wind were at our back for the most part.

The show that night was a bit of a variety show featuring Bobby Arvon who sings the theme to the Happy Days TV show. He sang a bunch of different songs, and supposedly did impressions of other singers...his Neil Diamond was good but that was about it. We didn’t think he was so hot. The Wave Review Dancers made another somewhat irrelevant appearance, but the final act was a comedy juggler named Billy Prudhomme. He made the evening worthwhile. He is an extremely talented fellow, with a very funny, well done act. Don’t miss him if he shows up on your cruise!

The chef’s were in the Centrum that evening giving tips on cooking and sculpting vegetables. They had a fact sheet they handed out about the kitchen which included their shopping list. To give you an idea each week they go through:

90,000 eggs, 1,400lbs. of bacon, 600 gallons of ice cream, 30,000lbs. of beef, 5,000lbs. of pork, 1,500lbs. of lamb, 6,500lbs. of flour, 10,000lbs. of fresh vegetables, 1,600 lbs. of coffee, 1,300lbs. of veal, 5,700lbs. of poultry, 4,100lbs. of fish, 2,500 lbs. of shellfish, 2,000 lbs. of cheese, 3,800 gallons of milk, 2,800lbs. of sugar, 10,000lbs. of fresh fruit, and 190lbs. of caviar. Their ice machines can make 18 tons of ice daily (enough to cool over 500,000 drinks!)

They prepare app. 12,000 meals per day, wash over 60,000 pieces of china a day and have a kitchen staff of 120 people. The dining rooms are staffed by 165 more people.

Thursday - January 29, 1998 - Antigua

We were up early this morning because between app. 6:15AM and 7:00AM we were just several miles from the coast of Montserrat which is presently being destroyed and reshaped by an active volcano. I had brought binoculars and with binoculars you can clearly see the lava flows, and the houses that were destroyed, and those still standing surrounded by hardened lava. The volcano top was in the clouds as we passed by and as the sun rose (6:39AM that day) and the day warmed, even from Antigua, you could see the plume of smoke coming out of the volcano. Well worth getting up to see up close, but you need binoculars to really see the big picture on Montserrat.

Note: The ship is 11 stories off the water, and the views of all these islands are fantastic. There are vast distances and expanses to be viewed. I highly recommend you beg, borrow or buy a set of binoculars and take them with you.

We ate breakfast in the dining room, and then headed up on deck to watch our arrival in Antigua. While heading into port, Antigua was indeed beautiful, and many people remarked at all the sandy inlets and coves we passed by. Upon closer examination with binoculars many of the coves were littered with trash, bottles, plastics etc. It was pretty gross looking actually.

The final docking of the ship in Antigua is at a bay in St. John’s which has extremely clouded water, presumably from the sewage winding down some of the side streets of St. John’s into the bay, or its just not that deep. Despite the filthy looking seawater, this was the most impressive and easy to access island. We docked and it was mere 100 yard walk to get into St. John’s main shopping district. They also had a terrific steel drum band going to greet us.

In port with us that day were the ships: Galaxy, Costa Classica, and Flamenco. We spent the morning walking around the shops, bought some jewelry, and walked up to St. John’s Church, and then we had lunch on the ship, which was a buffet in the dining room, which offered you the opportunity to sit with other cruisers and meet new people. After lunch we headed off on a snorkeling tour called the Wadadli Catamaran Cruise.

They took about 50 people on a large catamaran named Falcon and motored way out of the filthy looking bay (thank god) to a place in the middle of the open sea called Paradise Reef. We snorkeled there for about 45 minutes, and it was so-so, the reef was large and didn’t vary much, everything seemed to have a light coating of sand on it, and although some fish were there, they were not very abundant. We even had bread and cereal with us this time, and couldn’t get many fish to even gather together. They say its for advanced snorkelers, but that’s because there is a little bit of a current out there to contend with, nothing much to worry about.

Note: If you have a snorkeling tour, stop in at the Windjammer Cafe at breakfast time, and you can grab a few packages of cereal like Cheerio’s which are in individually wrapped serving packages. Once your in the seawater slightly rupture the wax paper and let them get good and soggy and then release them to the fish. Also bring a baggie or two with you, and pack up some bread etc.

They then motored the catamaran over to Runaway Beach and we swam for a while. When that was done we motored back to the docks. We were also served Rum and Coke, or Rum Punch after the snorkeling.

The folks who rode the jam packed Jolly Roger Pirate Cruise that day in Antigua all were pretty hammered by the rum drinks they served on that ship....so beware if you take that excursion, they serve some real potent stuff!!

We watched the ship leave Antigua from the Viking Crown Lounge, we could see St. Kitts and Nivus on the horizon. We then ate dinner in the dining room. The ship was only going at app. 10 knots that night, and there was virtually no motion to be felt.

We didn’t do anything more that evening, not even a show as we were too exhausted.

Friday - January 30, 1998 - St. Maarten

This port the ship had to anchor at, and we had to take a tender into the port. Also in St. Maarten on this day were the ships: Sundream (Nassau) and Bolero (Panama).

View of St. Maarten from Deck 11 of the Monarch of the Seas
The ship Bolero is in foreground, and Sundream in the background.

The tenders hold about 300 people each, and they had two operating that day. You get your tender tickets by showing up in a lounge at an appointed time. There seemed to be no hassle getting on a tender when you wanted to get one.

Once we were ashore we shared a cab with a couple from England for a paltry $5.00/each to Orient Beach on the French side of the Island called St. Martin. It was election day in St. Maarten and all the cars were adorned with either red or blue placards or flags, the colors symbolizing the person(s) you were backing in the election. The Dutch side St. Maarten was dry (no alcohol served) that day due to the elections.

The road to Orient Beach was interesting, and there were many goats seen along the way, and several wonderful views.

At the beach we rented some padded lounge chairs, and an umbrella and enjoyed about 4 hours there. Food and drink is available to you, fancy mixed drinks were $5.00/each, soda’s were $2,50/each and a decent sized french bread pizza was $3.00 which wasn’t bad considering where we were and the conditions on the beach.

There were many topless bathers, and quite a few nude bathers at the beach. One end of the beach was predominantly nude, but that didn’t seem to bother many, as totally nude bathers strolled all parts of the beach at various times.

They had parasailing and jet ski’s available. Everything you could ever want at a beach was at this place.

We grabbed a cab back to town, and did some shopping, and then headed back to the ship. We ate in the dining room, and attended the show that night featuring Wayne Cotter the comedian and the Ashton Family (acrobats). Both were extremely good acts.

Saturday - January 31, 1998 - At Sea all day

We were a little sunburnt from St. Maarten’s and watched the movie "Out to Sea" in our cabin, we later ventured out on deck for a bit to watch the horse races that afternoon. It was very hot up on deck, even in the shade. Randy had bought two horses for the big owners race, but only one of them came in the money. It placed second.

We started packing Saturday afternoon, so that we could attend dinner and the evenings show without interruption.

Saturday evening they had the Farewell Show featuring the Monarch of the Seas Cruise Staff and the Wave Review Singers and Dancers. The Cruise Staff were pretty hysterical, and this was probably the Wave Review ensemble’s best performance. The comic juggler Billy Prudhomme was also made another appearance during this show with new material, and he was as hilarious as ever.

RCCL asked that you have your large baggage outside of your room by midnight, and they provided everyone with colored tags for their luggage. This all came into play the next day when it was time to disembark from the ship.

Sunday - February 1, 1998 - Time to go Home

The next morning we ate breakfast and then sat down in the Schooner Lounge to await our flight call. Rather than having a mad rush for the exit, they have you leave the ship by your flight #,. early flights leave first, and the later flights disembark later. They start calling flights off at app. 8:00AM. We had one of the later flights out of Puerto Rico (departed 3:45 PM Atlantic Time) and we were called off the ship at app. 10:15AM.

Once your flight # is called you need only go into the terminal to the colored area matching your luggage tag color, and claim your luggage. You then walk through Customs, and take your luggage outside the terminal to one of the waiting trucks for your respective airline, your luggage is tagged by the airline and then taken immediately to the airport, to be loaded on the appropriate plane. Royal Caribbean also provides free bus service to the airport from the ship terminal up until 4:00PM on departure day. This saves an app. $16.00 in cab fare.

We had our luggage squared away and were clear of the ship by 10:30AM which gave us some more time to kill in Old San Juan. We walked up to the Crown and Anchor Club, and left off our carry on luggage and the continued up to the Fort El Morro once again. This time went inside El Morro. The scenic views and history of this place made the trip well worthwhile. They even have an air-conditioned museum inside.

We ate a quick lunch at the Ponderosa in Old San Juan which could only offer a salad bar to customers as they "had no gas" with which to cook meat. Why they had no gas was unknown, as nobody working inside seemed to speak any English.

We then went back to the ship terminal and grabbed a bus ride from RCCL and headed for the airport. The flight home was without incident. We arrived in Portland, ME at app. 11:30PM (Eastern Time) that Sunday evening.

All in all it was a very good cruise. We were somewhat sick towards the end of cruise, having caught some type of virus, but it didn’t really hamper our time on board.

My wife is already talking about when the next cruise will be!!

Photos courtesy of David Gudas

Cruise Line

This was David's first cruise and as you can see, it won't he his last. He can be reached for questions or comment at: gudas@ime.net.


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