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Cruise Ship Review
Monarch of the Seas
By
Stan & Nan Bidlack

Monarch of the Seas Southern Caribbean Cruise March 1997


Day 1, Sunday - San Juan, Puerto Rico

3:00pm - Instant summer! 82 and sunny. After a 15-minute bus ride to the Royal Caribbean Cruise Line pier from the airport, we arrived at the embarkation terminal of the Monarch of the Seas. What a huge and beautiful ship she was!

30 minutes later (citizenship check, credit card registration, etc.) we boarded the ship and found our cabin on the fifth (of 12) deck. Denise, our travel agent, had sent a basket with snacks & pop. To our surprise, our three pieces of luggage arrived at our stateroom by 4:30. Our cabin stewardess, Barbara, introduced herself and explained the logistics of the afternoon. We unpacked and ventured forth to explore.

We walked all around the ship. Wow - was it ever BIG! We wandered and looked her over until it was time for the "Welcome Aboard" program. This was held in the "Sound of Music Lounge," a large stage-theater. Here we learned all about the ship-sponsored tours at each island to come. After that, it was time to get ready for dinner. At 8:30 we proceeded to our dining room on Deck 4 for the first casual night. We were assigned to Table 177. Our table mates were two couples: Jeff & Christine, both English teachers from Michigan, and Karl & Denise, from Tennessee, a tool & die company owner and beauty shop proprietor. It was fun to have the same couples eat together each night; we became new friends quite quickly.

We loved our table's service staff. The head waiter, Franceso, from Italy; our waiter, James, from Chili (James did all the "main" serving); our assistant waiter, Kristian, from Hungary; and the wine steward, Fernando, from Portugal. They were a phenomenal team all week long. The entire dining room staff was a United Nations of wonderful people. This was the Flower Drum dining room; an identical room, the Brigadoon, was in simultaneous operation on the deck right below us.

10:00pm - Mandatory life boat drill; even this was fun and very interesting. All 2650 passengers wearing life vests and reporting to their "muster stations." They take roll, so you can't skip it; they even look in the cabins to make sure you're participating.

11:00pm - Set sail; watched the activities from the top deck. We "backed out" of the harbor, and we were off! Hit the sack about 1:00am.

Day 2, Monday - St. Thomas, USVI

6:30am - Docked at Charlotte Amalie, a deep horseshoe-shaped bay on the island's southern coast; beautiful green hills and little houses; the busiest port-of-call in the Caribbean; world famous for fabulous shopping. We ate a big buffet breakfast in the Windjammer Cafe (we did this every morning except Saturday when we ate a fancy six-course breakfast in our regular dining room.)

Decided we were more interested in adventure than shopping, so we did the "Champagne Catamaran Sailaway," one of the many St. Thomas excursions offered by RCI. Normally a tour for 40 people, there were only 12 of us. After a two-hour sail on a large catamaran, the Adventure Cat, we arrived at Honeymoon Beach on the island of St. John (part of the V.I. National Park). Beautiful.

 

Swam & snorkeled for two hours; our young American crew served us a great lunch; returned to the ship at 4:00pm. By now we'd learned that Barbara made up our room three times each day, after breakfast, before dinner, and after dinner. Each night the bed was turned down, mints were on our pillows, and two documents were laid out: the "Cruise Compass," a detailed schedule of all events for the next day, and a little card with the next day's weather report and sea conditions.

We walked around the upper decks for a while and soon discovered that frozen yogurt cones were served every day between 4:00-5:00; back to the cabin for a nap; got ready for the "Captain's Welcome Aboard Cocktail Party" and the first formal night. Lots of tuxes, but also lots of dark suits. The Captain himself greets everybody and the drinks are free. After a short and interesting speech, the Captain "dismisses" everybody to dinner - an elegant French meal. All the dinners were delicious. You can order as many appetizers, desserts, or entrees as you want to, whatever looks tasty. At dessert time James and the wait staff presented us with a 30th anniversary cake and song. It was great.

We took in a few minutes of the 10:45 entertainment, a stage show extravaganza, but were too tired to make it to the famous Midnight Buffet.

Day 3, Tuesday - Martinique

We slept in a little, and I brought Nan breakfast from the Windjammer. Nan was in complete luxury this morning because she'd scheduled a European facial. Meanwhile, I explored the ship some more. The ship was rocking enough to be noticeable - you had a little trouble walking in a straight line all the time - but we were never in the least bothered by any motion sickness. We didn't see or hear of anyone who was.

12:00 noon - We watched while the Monarch docked in Fort-de-France, Martinique; French citizenry; one of the highest standards of living in the Caribbean, although we couldn't tell from what we saw.

Walked into Fort-de-France to explore. Shipyards; more industrial than St. Thomas. All French-speaking, little English. We wanted to buy a bottle of water, but had to carry on with sign language to make the transaction.

"European feeling"; tropical European experience. Pretty rain forest that we heard about from others.

This is the former island of the Carib Indians; very war-like; Columbus was too afraid to land here until 1502. The Carib attacked the more peace-loving Arawak Indians of Barbados and the other islands. Between these attacks and the diseases brought by Columbus, there are no visible remnants of the Arawak today, not even their language; they were all killed by 1650. Martinique's major geological event occurred in 1902 - Mount Pelee erupted, killing 30,000 people and destroying the island's economy; there was only one survivor, a prisoner in jail. Two of the destroyed villages have been preserved as they were after the eruption.

While we were strolling along the waterfront, a French-speaking man came up to us smiling broadly and talking rapidly. We couldn't tell what he wanted, but after a couple of "No thank you's," he stepped away from us - and proceeded to take off all his clothes and wade into the water. Nobody except us seemed to take much notice. Interesting.

Back to the ship at 5:00 for more yogurt cones.

5:30pm - We set sail for Barbados. This night was "America the Beautiful" night. Dinner was sport coat & tie, and all of the dining room's waiters sang American songs before dessert. Much fun. After dinner we lost a couple of bucks in the casino then relaxed on the Pool Deck with drinks and listened to the excellent band (one of many on board) playing there.

Day Four, Wednesday - Barbados

8:00am: arrive in Bridgetown, Barbados. We took one of the free busses to the port terminal; it housed a very nice large shopping mall done in the flavor of the islands.

An obviously British place, though independent since 1966; very pleasant and clean. We hadn't signed up for a ship-sponsored tour, so we decided to arrange our own private excursion. We went to the mall's cab stand and proceeded to negotiate with Cedric the taxi driver for a five-hour tour and beach trip to Crane Beach (recommend by one of the pursers on the Monarch as beautiful and secluded). Cedric was great.

Barbados is the most easterly of the islands, mainly sugar cane plantations, but is also known as one of the most modern and cosmopolitan of the islands though densely populated (260,000 people on 166 sq. miles). Between the sugar fields are pleasant "ginger-bread" villages, made up mostly of wooden "chattel houses" - tiny homes that are literally moveable by the residents when they relocate in a different community; all English-speaking. People are considered among the best educated (British system) in the Caribbean. Mandatory school with two foreign languages through 17 yrs. old. Lots of West African heritage pride. Cedric (65 yrs. old) was upset by the influence of North American culture on the younger generation. 99% of the citizens are descendants of the West African slaves brought to Barbados by the British to work the sugar cane plantations.

Cedric took us to St. John's Church, built in the mid-18th century. Beautiful view; highest point on island. From there to Sunbury Plantation House, an interesting preservation of the 300 year-old home of an early rich sugar cane settler. This is where a major slave rebellion occurred in 1816. We passed a large statue of a slave holding his broken chains which Cedric proudly pointed out.

Then went to Crane Beach - two miles of gorgeous pure white sand. But since it is on the Atlantic side the waves are big. ("These waves come all the way from Africa," said Cedric.) We had lunch there in the restaurant overlooking the beach far below. Nan bought a small oil painting of a chattel house from a young man on the beach wearing a Michigan basketball jersey. We stayed on the beach a couple of hours (Cedric waited), then returned to the port terminal and back on the Monarch of the Seas.

Set sail at 5:00pm for Antigua.

Took in some dancing to '70s tunes in one of the night clubs after attending the night's Variety Show in the main theater.

Day Five, Thursday - St. John's, Antigua

9:00am - We docked at St. John's City; this island has been inhabited for 4,000 years (mainly the Arawak before they were wiped out by the Carib). We took the "Antigua Island and Historical Tour"; Sylvester the van driver took our group to English Harbor, where Admiral Nelson headquartered the British Navy in the late 18 century. This was the most strategic British naval base in the West Indies. "Nelson's Dockyard" is now an Antiguan national park. Very interesting historical site.

The island was preparing for a huge international cricket tournament. We were with a British couple who knew all about the sport. ("The only game more boring than American baseball," mused the husband.) Sylvester was delighted that someone knew a lot about Antigua's national pastime. From the tour of English Harbor, we were taken to the island's highest point; phenomenal view.

Antigua was hit very hard by a hurricane (Luis?) in 1995, and is still recovering in many places.

After returning to town, we walked around for a while then headed back to the ship to sit on Deck 11 and watch the 5:30 departure while sipping beers and taking in the warm afternoon sun.

Dinner was casual, followed by a fun and hilarious show in the guise of a 1950s-'60s sock-hop. After that we retired to the Pool Deck for music and dancing under the stars. This is most definitely the way to live!

Day Six, Friday - St. Maarten & Sinn Martin

8:00am: arrive in the harbor of Philipsburg. This is the Dutch side; the other side, spelled Sinn Martin, is French. The Monarch anchored off-shore, and we were "tendered" in.

We were amazed by the old "salt farms." These were fascinating. In the 18th and 19th centuries, large "fields" were purposely flooded with sea water which then evaporated, leaving thick layers of salt to be harvested and exported.

Lots of high hills and lots of hurricane damage. We took the ship-sponsored "St. Martin Beach Rendezvous," a nice tour of the island with a two-hour stop at Orient Beach, one beautiful place! Beach chairs and lunch provided by the tour. Two miles of pure white sand and pristine water. And - clothing optional! Although we kept our suits on, we saw a zillion French people who didn't. Our British guide warned everybody not to take pictures; under Sinn Martin's law, a nudist has the legal right to seize your film and camera. We spent most of the time in the surf, just walking the length of the wonderful beach. It was great. We had a nice lunch at a shaded picnic table, walked the beach some more, then boarded the bus for the trip back.

A few clouds and eventual sprinkles appeared as we arrived in town. We walked around for an hour or so, then we made our way to the dock and caught the tender back to the ship, in the gentle rain, at about 4:30. Another frozen yogurt cone and a nap.

6:00pm - We set sail for San Juan and get ready for dinner, the second and final formal night, the "Captain's Dinner." We had a great meal and everybody took pictures of James, Kristian, and Fernando. Our table mates surprised us with another 30th anniversary commemoration: a magnum of champagne and a little carved wooden box from the island. Cool!

We went to the stage show then to one of the clubs for a while and had a last drink about 1:30am.


Champagne Bar

Day Seven, Saturday -all day at sea.

Another great day (and *sniff* the last one). We slept in until 9:00, had a great breakfast and just relaxed around the pool deck.

At 10:00am we went to the important "Debarkation Talk" where we learned all about checking out, customs, and luggage handling. Royal Caribbean has things so well organized that it's easy to wrap everything up.

At 11:00 we went on a tour of the ship's bridge - fascinating. It's all run by electronics and computers. The executive officer showed us around, explaining all of the various systems on board: satellite navigation, collision warning, engine monitoring, fire detection, etc. The fire detection system is so sensitive that it gets triggered between 5:00 & 7:00pm on the formal nights - women's hair dryers and curling irons!

That night we had our last great dinner, packed and put our bags outside our room at midnight. They are automatically taken care of by the cabin staff, delivered to customs and then to the plane. Passengers have to worry only about their carry-on stuff. We had a last drink in the Viking Crown Lounge (14 stories above the water) and went to bed. Yup, we were a little depressed about it all coming to an end.

Day Eight, Sunday - return to San Juan.

We were at breakfast by 8:00, awaiting our call to disembark. It's all done according to the time of your flight. We said good-bye to our new friends and were called about 9:15. Going through customs was a breeze, and we had a couple of hours to walk around San Juan before catching the RCI shuttle to the airport.

1:30pm - We take off for home. Had a great flight until reaching the windy skies of Detroit; a pretty bumpy landing. Due to the high winds, lots of flights had to be delayed, and we sat on the runway for over an hour waiting for a gate to open. Somehow, we didn't mind. We just sat and reminisced about the greatest vacation in history. We got home about 10:00, where all was well.

Simply put:

This was a great trip from start to finish. We'd love to turn right around and do it again. Maybe someday we will!


Stan and Nan Bidlack hail from Ann Arbor, Michigan where Stan is a freelance copywriter and owns Business Writing Services. Nan is a registered nurse and Research Laboratory Manager. These high school sweethearts have been married 30 years
and this was their first cruise. Naturally, they can't wait to go again!
Stan and Nan can be contacted at: sbidlack@umich.edu.


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