By: Paul S. Cilwa Viewed: 2/24/2019
Occurred: 1/4/2008
Topics/Keywords: #MonarchoftheSeas #RoyalCaribbean #Travel Page Views: 3995
We set sail on our cruise to Ensenada, Mexico.
Monarch of the Seas

Now that we have become accomplished cruisers (having just completed our second cruise) we find we cannot help compare the two cruise lines based on our admittedly meager experience. I also must admit that my judgment may have been colored by a couple of negative experiences on this latest vacation. Still…you are expecting a complete report and you shall have one!

Our cruise mates consisted of the following:

  • Myself
  • Michael, my spouse
  • Mary, my former spouse
  • Karen, my daughter
  • Zachary, our grandson
  • Surya, Michael's sister
  • Barbara and Peter, our friends and landlords

Peter, Barbara and Surya made the drive from Phoenix in their own, hybrid, environmentally-friendly car. The rest of us went in a van we rented because it was large enough to hold us all, and it had a built-in DVD player to amuse Zachary during the 7-hour trip. To make up for the van's larger carbon footprint, we all held our breaths during the drive. The two cars traveled caravan-style, guided by twin GPS devices that presumably gave each of us identical routes as we drove. As many times as I've been to Los Angeles, this was the first time I attempted the journey without a paper map. There was only one "incident" in which a ramp had been relocated since the GPS' map was drawn and I missed my exit. The GPS quickly recovered, though, and got me back on the correct road with only a minute or two wasted.

We only drove as far as Banning, which left about an hour and a half's drive to San Pedro where the ship was leaving. We spent the night at a Super 8. Horrified at the thought of Michael and me and Mary and Karen and Zach all sharing one room (which we've done several times before), Barbara insisted on upgrading our accommodations and of course no one complained!

But despite the nicer rooms, Michael awoke during the night to the smell of cigarette smoke. He's very sensitive to it and it kept him from sleeping well. I, of course, was oblivious; but in the morning Mary reported she'd smelled it, too. These were non-smoking rooms so someone must have gone outside to smoke and done so in the front of the motel, where the smoke got sucked into the room air conditioners.

As so many motels do, the Super 8 featured a "continental breakfast". I don't usually get too excited about this, because you can never predict which continent they have in mind. Too often it's Antarctica, and everything they serve is cold. I prefer a hot breakfast. So it was a nice surprise that this Super 8 featured an actually waffle iron and batter so we could make our own, fresh waffles! Okay, so the iron was sticky and the waffles had to be peeled off with a ballpoint pen (until the desk clerk came out and applied some Pam from a hidden can) and the only syrup was artificially sweetened (with glue, I think). They were still tastier than Eggos.

We had a second breakfast at McDonald's after checking out.

Cruise Day 1

Because of our timing—and this was intentional—there wasn't much traffic obstructing us as we completed our journey to the docks in San Pedro. It was easy to find Pier 93, home of Royal Carribean's Monarch of the Seas, and for Peter and me to drop off our respective passengers at the door. Finding parking was a tad more complex, since the parking lot nearest the ship was full. But an alternate wasn't too distant, and a shuttle was waiting to bring us back; so I had no complaints.

(By the way, the travel documents we received from Royal Caribbean warned that the parking lots can only be paid in cash, at about $12 a day. The porter who told Peter where to park, advised him that credit cards were also accepted. This turned out to be so.)

So, now we were all gathered at the terminal. There were plenty of people to direct us efficiently to the security screening. As had been the case last year in Tampa, when we sailed with Carnival, the security screening was reached via escalator, with an elevator available for those who needed one such as Surya, who was traveling with a walker.

Upstairs, we waited in line to check in and then have our carry-ons be X-rayed and ourselves magnetically strip-searched. The line moved slowly (though no more slowly than had Carnival's) until it occurred to us that having a "handicapped" person in our company might bump us to the head of the line, which it did.

There was a photographer on the way to the gangplank but, unlike with Carnival, we weren't compelled to have our photos taken. (Our frazzled boarding-Carnival photos were kept on display the entire trip, a testimony to how unattractive a group of people can be who've just dragged luggage out of a car and up an escalator and through security. We were tempted to buy the picture just to get it off the display, except that then we'd have owned it forever.) So we gladly stepped by him and handed the next guy our "Set Sail" cards.

As with Carnival, each passenger possesses an ID card, issued when you originally check in, that associates you with your room and a credit card. Typically, that would be the dad/husband's credit card. Typically, that would be me. Then, when one's spouse gets a sudden urge to buy a diamond necklace or one's daughter decides that several cartons of duty-free cigarettes are too terrific a bargain to pass up (even though she's quitting), it becomes a surprise when said dad/husband gets the final bill at six o'clock in the morning when the ship returns to home port.

The cards are also associated in the ship's computer with photos taken at this checkpoint. We look awful in them, too; but only ship's personnel are going to see them, anyway; the cards also replace our tickets/passports when leaving and returning to the ship. The computer knows exactly who is and isn't onboard at any moment, disregarding the occasional person overboard.

TheMonarch of the Seas was built in 1991 at the Chantiers de l'Atlantique shipyards in Saint-Nazaire, France. At 73,941 gross tons, Monarch was one of the largest cruise ships in the world at time of her completion. She can carry up to 2,744 passengers.

(By comparison, the Carnival Legend, on which we cruised last May, is 88,500 gross tons yet carries only 2,124 passengers—which explains why the Monarch seemed so crowded. The Legend was built ten years later, in 2001, by Kvaerner Masa-Yards which was a subsidiary of Kvaerner, in Helsinki, Finland.)

My very first impression on boarding the ship was that it's decor was much more refined than that of the Legend, which was actually rather gaudy. If the Monarch's main lounge resembled the lobby of a fine New York hotel, the Legend's was more like one of a hotel in Las Vegas.

My second impression was also favorable, in that our rooms were ready when we boarded. (We had to wait an hour or so on the Legend.) What's more, our luggage was waiting at the door—on the legend, it wasn't delivered until around 9pm, far to late to permit changing clothes before dinner.The third impression, though, came from the room and in that respect, the Legend had the Monarch beat. The room was much smaller than the one we had on the Legend; the beds were awkwardly placed and there were a number of spots on the ceiling where the paint had worn off, revealing the bare metal beneath. We had paid extra for a cabin with a window; but the view was blocked by a lifeboat so the window let in light (all night long; we had to draw the drape) but no scenery.

Mary, Karen, and Zach and Michael and I were all on Deck 8; Barbara and Peter, and Surya, on Deck 5. The rooms were similar, but the Deck 8 rooms included fold-down bunks for extra people. Zach had one set up for him with the ladies.

On both ships, the rooms had just one electrical outlet. Michael and I use CPAP machines to compensate for sleep apnea. Fortunately, I had expected this so I brought a long extension cord and a power strip. However, on the Legend there were two bedside tables and we put each of our machines on one. Here, there was only one bedside stand; I had to put my machine on the window sill and reach over the bedstead to turn it on and off—very inconvenient.

Which is not to say there was anything wrong with the room. Well, other than the places on the ceiling where the paint had worn off revealing bare metal. I've stayed in hotel rooms in New York City that weren't any larger (and cost almost as much). I'm just saying, by comparison to the Legend…well, no comparison.

I did have to ask our room attendant, Urban, to move our twin beds together. We'd had to do that on the Legend, too; in both cases we'd been asked, when buying our tickets, if we were a "couple" in terms of how our beds were to be arranged; and in both cases apparently seeing two men's names in the room was enough to move someone to ignore that directive. But Urban promptly rearranged the furniture, though I got the impression he wasn't too happy about it.

But maybe that was my imagination.

Michael, looking as good as at any time during the trip. Peter and Barbara

We took a couple of hours to unpack; even though this was just a three-night cruise, I hate living out of a suitcase. Mary and Karen didn't mind so much and so never unpacked. But Michael and I tucked our suitcases out of the way (alongside the bed, as you can see in the photo) and made use of the generous amount of closet and drawer space.By the time we were done, it was time for dinner.We had all signed up for the 6 pm seating in the main dining room. That doesn't mean we had to eat there—there were plenty of other places on board to eat!—but our culinary experiences in the Legend's main dining room had been so positive that we were hoping to duplicate it.

Zachary and Karen Surya

In fact, we were first in line, the dining room's doors being closed and locked.Promptly at 6, however, a waiter came out to open them. They were the kind that click onto magnetic fastenings to stay open. But they wouldn't click. The waiter kept trying to make them lock open, but they wouldn't do it. Finally, after another waiter and I added our efforts, the doors stayed open and we were allowed to enter. We were not disappointed. I had chicken marsala and it was to die for. However, Surya had trouble finding anything on the menu she could eat, since she is allergic to both alcohol and mushrooms. Amazingly, that seemed to be the two primary ingredients in almost every dish. Fortunately she was able finally to find an acceptable entrée.

Barbara and Mary

Zachary was able to get his pizza, though not until we asked specifically for a child's menu.

Paul and Zach

As was done on the Legend, we had a host of servers: The headwaiter who came by once each evening; the waiter, an assistant waiter, and a bread-and-beverage girl, as well as a special bar waiter who came by asking if we wanted anything from the bar. That included cans of Diet Coke for Mary and Karen, but not my fountain Diet Coke which also came from the bar. The difference is that I had purchased the $6-a-day "soft drink pass" which was a sticker attached to my Set Sail card. All I had to do was brandish my card and I could get a fountain soft drink from any bar on the ship—or from Monique, the bread-and-drinks girl—at no additional charge.

We noted at this point that the restaurant was experiencing an almost violent vibration as the ship's engines propelled us out to sea. There was also a pronounced rocking which I note only because the Carnival Legend had been so smooth and steady we had to look at the window to see if it was even moving. On the Monarch, there could be no doubt.

After dinner, Zachary wanted nothing more than to climb the ship's Rock Wall, unique on this ship. Actually, so did I. But it had been squally all day and was now raining a bit; and the rock wall, which was outside, was closed. So I promised we would try again the next day and instead we headed for the Jacuzzi.

Zach had a good time but Michael and I found the wind-driven, nearly frozen rain—we were underway, full speed ahead—drilling into our heads to be less than pleasant. When I explained that we couldn't stay long and why, Zachary said, "Why don't you do what I do? Just put your head underwater and stay there!" Which is certainly what I would have done at eight; but no longer seems the ideal way to enjoy a hot tub.

By 9:30 pm Michael and I were both pooped. We felt like true wet blankets but it couldn't be helped; and so went to bed. Zach decided he wanted to spend this night with the grandpas, so we pulled down one of the bunks and were happy to find it was made. Zach brought in his army of stuffed bedtime friends and we turned out the light. I slept fairly well except for one time when one of the stuffed toys dropped onto me.

Next: Ensenada, Here We Come!