For those of you who’ve been following our round the world adventures for a while, you know that we love utilizing repositioning cruises as an insanely affordable yet luxurious way to get around the globe. We believe they are among the best deals in all of travel for those who have the time to spare.
While roaming around the world last year we took our sixth (yes, 6th!) repositioning cruise during the past three years of travel. This time we cruised on the Pullmantur Monarch for lowest price we’ve ever seen: $159 per person! Can you believe it? Cheers to that!
Distracted by all our Africa travels last year, we never got a chance to write a Pullmantur Monarch review. Meanwhile it’s actually been one of the most common questions readers have been emailing us about lately. So we’re finally taking the time to spill all about this deal of the century in this Pullmantur Monarch review.
Pullmantur Monarch Review of a $159 Cruise
During past ocean crossings on these mega ships we’ve paid about $400-$600 per person plus taxes and gratuities. When you consider all that is included (two weeks of first class accommodation, transport from one continent to another, stops at exotic islands, constant entertainment, and five-star meals), you begin to realize what an incredible deal these repositioning cruises can be. It’s usually even cheaper than flying!
So when we saw a 13-day Pullmantur Monarch cruise listed at the rock bottom price of $159 for the entire two-week voyage, with the bonus of a full drink package included, this was a no-brainer that we simply could not refuse. With this Pullmantur Monarch cruise coming out to a meager $12.23 per night, all-inclusive, this may be one of the least expensive cruises ever in cruise history! We had to do it.
But at such an unfathomable low price, we wondered what conditions would be like aboard the Monarch. We couldn’t find any Pullmantur Monarch reviews online. And Pullmantur was a relatively unknown cruise brand to us. We then discovered that’s because it is a cruise line based in Spain and catering mostly to people from Spain. So it made sense that we hadn’t heard of Pullmantur. We’re clearly not Pullmantur’s target audience.
But that didn’t dissuade us from taking this hugely discounted cruise across the Atlantic. We love Spanish culture and practicing the language. We also discovered Pullmantur is owned by the familiar cruise company, Royal Caribbean, which further gave us confidence to book the Pullmantur Monarch transatlantic voyage for a lowly $159 per person. What a steal!
So how was it? Now we’re here to give you all the details in this Pullmantur Monarch repositioning cruise review.
First Impressions: Embarking on the Pullmantur Monarch
We hopped on the Pullmantur Monarch in the gritty port town of Colon, Panama. The embarkation process was the slowest and most unorganized we had ever experienced in the dozen cruises we’ve been on. The window to check-in was Noon to 2:00, so we arrived right in the middle at 1:00, ready to get onboard and eat a late lunch. The longest we’ve ever spent checking into a cruise was about 30 minutes. So we never anticipated the check-in process here would take three full hours of waiting in line!
We were famished by the time we finally boarded the ship at 4:00, but lunchtime was long over. Instead the muster drill had already begun, which was completely chaotic and took 45 minutes.
Things were not off to a good start and we feared for the worst. We began second guessing our decision of taking such a cheap cruise. Then it was time to check out our cabin.
The Cabin on the Pullmantur Monarch
We booked an interior cabin on the Pullmantur Monarch based on its low cost. An extra $80 per person would have gotten us a small porthole, but we really wanted to save our cash and experience what a $159 cruise is like. Hence we booked this least expensive cabin available. In hindsight, I think having the window would have been worth it, given that it breaks down to the lowly price of $6 extra per night.
Our inside cabin was pretty small compared to other ships that we’ve sailed on. It was only big enough for a queen size bed, a small closet, and a chair with a desk.
The room set-up was awkward, with the TV on a stand directly above the headboard. (Our TV in our inside cabin was where the porthole is located on the above picture.) This made it impossible to watch the TV unless you reversed the bed configuration, which we did. We later realized this wasn’t necessary, as there was only a single English-speaking channel, which played a constant loop of blockbuster bombs such as Paul Blart Mall Cop 2. Really.
The bathroom matched the cabin in size and was similarly small. Toiletries consisted of a bar of hand soap and some shampoo that doubled as a body wash. It was very adequate, but nothing fancy.
The space was cozy yet we never felt cramped. Perhaps most importantly, the bed was very comfortable, the air-conditioning worked well, and we slept like babies as the ship rocked back & forth. Also our cabin steward was great, always keeping things tidy and even providing nightly turndown services. While the cabin was on the small side, overall it met our needs.
We inquired about upgrading to a balcony stateroom, as we’re usually really good (and lucky) with getting free balcony upgrades. (Read 10 Secrets To Getting A Free Balcony Upgrade on a Cruise Ship.) But on the Pullmantur Monarch, they wanted to charge us an additional $1,200 for the upgrade. That’s 7 times more than the price of the cruise itself. Nope!
Pullmantur Monarch Ship Review
We enjoyed the Monarch, the common areas, and the layout of the ship. For a relatively older ship (1991), we expected to find more wear & tear, but the Monarch was actually in good shape.
The Monarch had all the signature areas of any cruise ship: a casino, plenty of lounges & bars, two adjacent pools, hot tubs, a restaurant, the buffet, a theatre, library, atrium, Internet café, jogging track, shuffle board, etc. While the Monarch did have all these traditional areas, there was nothing novel about the ship that you find today in more contemporary counterparts. A rock-climbing wall was perhaps the most exciting feature.
Also, the ship had one of the poorest excuses of a library we’ve ever seen on a ship, with only a handful of books and game boards. Given all the sea days during this transatlantic itinerary, the library conditions were a big disappointment. What little books and games that were onboard were completely destroyed by unruly children who literally tore them all apart. We were baffled by the lack of parenting as we saw hundreds of pages of books littering the library floor and game boards ripped in half.
But unlike the library, other common areas were up to par. The atrium was nice and elegant. We enjoyed much time sipping on drinks and passing time in the many lounges, often while enjoying some live music.
Another aspect about the Monarch that seemed different than other ships we’ve been on was the motion. We felt the ship rocking much more so than other cruises that have good stabilizers. During this voyage we sailed through moderate swells of one to two meters. But despite the seas not being too rough, you could really feel the ship moving back and forth. On more modern ships, we’ve cruised through seas four times as turbulent, even sailing through the remnants of a hurricane. The rocking on the Monarch felt similar to that, even though the seas here weren’t nearly as rough.
The All-Inclusive Drink Package on the Pullmantur Monarch
The drinks aboard the Pullmantur Monarch was a big high point for us. For such an inexpensive cruise to include alcoholic beverages, we feared we would be stuck with cheap well liquors, almost certain to induce cringe worthy hangovers. Thankfully, that was not the case.
Instead, we were delighted to find drink menus that included brands such as Bacardi rum, Beefeater gin, and Stoli vodka. When ordering, it was important to specify these brands, otherwise bartenders defaulted to cheaper well bottles. Never order a “rum & Coke.” Rather, order a “Bacardi & Coke.” The wine on board the Monarch was also decent and we particularly enjoyed the Spanish cava (Spain’s version of champagne).
A big miss in the drink department were the beers, as the only included beer was Miller Genuine Draft. For a $1-per-beer upgrade charge, you could indulge in a Miller Lite. A $2 upcharge would get you a prized Mexican cerveza such as a Corona or Dos Equis. And that was the extent of their entire beer selection. We found it laughable that we could get some delicious Spanish cava or a Beefeater Gin & Tonic for free, yet had to pay a $2 upcharge for the piss that is Corona.
But while the beer was a miss, the coffee was yet another hit. A nice variety of expertly crafted and caffiene-rich espresso based drinks helped greatly to counteract the constant time changes. Morning cappuccinos and double espressos were a treat to help thwart any effects from overindulging at the bar the night prior.
The Cuisine on the Pullmantur Monarch
Overall, we were pretty happy with the food onboard the Pullmantur Monarch. Given the $159 price point of the 13-night voyage, we weren’t expecting much. So we were pleasantly surprised to find some decadent 3-course meals each night that were made complete with constantly flowing wine pours.
Main courses usually consisted of a choice of about 4-5 options that typically composed of chicken, fish, pork, vegetarian and occasionally beef offerings like steak. There was no chateaubriand or lobster, as we’ve been spoiled with on other transatlantic cruises. Perhaps the most memorable (and tasty) dish was a tender and saucy ox tail! Most dishes were average or above. A few dazzled and others bombed. The final desert courses left us with full bellies and smiles on our faces, although sometimes we opted for cheese plates instead of a sweat treat.
The buffet was adequate for breakfasts and lunches. There usually wasn’t anything to rave about, yet we were never left disappointed either. The lunch buffet typically consisted of a good variety of salad, sandwiches, pastas, pizza, and even Asian cuisine, that was all anchored by a carving station which rotated daily to offer something like turkey, roast beef, fish, etc.
Activities on the Pullmantur Monarch
With so many sea days, we hoped there would be plenty of activities to help occupy our time and help us to mingle. While there were some, it usually wasn’t a packed agenda aboard the Pullmantur Monarch.
Each afternoon there was usually a game or two by the pool, which was followed by a trivia before dinner at one of the inside lounges. At night there was occasionally a game show style event to participate in or watch.
Games ranged from cruise classics like the Love & Marriage game at night to a poolside beer chugging contest during the day. The activities were hit or miss overall. But the activities staff worked their butts off and always tried to keep things fun & lively.
Nightly Entertainment on the Pullmantur Monarch
The nightly entertainment was decent. It was primarily song (in English) & dance shows, in addition to two comedy nights that were entirely in Spanish.
Unlike other ships we’ve traveled on, it was the same entertainment team that did a different performance every night. Given they were able to deliver a near flawless performance for just about every night during the two weeks of the cruise, it was quite an impressive feat and a testament to their talent and versatility.
Still, most of the shows were not up to par with the Vegas-caliber performances that passengers have come to expect on other cruise lines. It was a few notches down. And while it did give us something to do in the evenings, other than drink, the shows often failed to capture our attention.
Instead, we grew to prefer the piano player in the coffee lounge who would instigate nightly sing-alongs, with a range from classic Billy Joel to modern hits.
Finally, dance parties would last late into the night, and usually past our bedtime.
Fellow Passengers on the Pullmantur Monarch
Typical repositioning cruises we’ve taken have been composed largely of American retirees, with little variety in terms of age and nationality. So we were delighted that this cruise was much more of a mixed bag, both in respect to age ranges and where people were coming from.
While Pullmantur cruises primarily attract a Spanish or Portuguese speaking crowd, the language of passengers for this transatlantic sailing was approximately half English. The cruise also had a good representation of passengers from Venezuela, Colombia, and Mexico in addition to a smattering of other Latin American countries. There was a sizable group of Americans who, like us, all seemed to be sailing on Pullmantur for the first-time. Also like us, they were attracted to the voyage by the rock bottom pricing.
Unlike other repositioning cruises we’ve taken, ages on this cruise ran the gambit from young millennials to senior citizens. There was a special group of (mostly young) digital nomads that boarded the ship in Cartagena as part of something called the Nomad Cruise, which helped to bring down the average age. We were thrilled to find a bunch of likeminded people on the ship.
Yet we were later completely appalled when we noticed the downright rude behavior that a subset of the Nomad Cruisers displayed throughout the voyage. We’ve never seen such awful behavior before on a cruise:
- strolling into the main dining room barefoot,
- girls mouthing off to security after breaking the ship’s law by sunbathing nude,
- rollerblading around the jogging track while knocking into seniors who were attempting to walk,
- guys walking around the ship’s indoor common areas in nothing but their underwear, and
- just blatantly drunken antics that included loudly yelling at and heckling the performers during nightly shows.
It was all so disrespectful and it had the rest of the ship talking about their bad-mannered conduct throughout the voyage. Their complete lack of decency made us personally ashamed to call ourselves digital nomads. It gave a bad name to the other respectful Nomad Cruisers who were there to learn, network, and have fun. I’ve since noticed that the Nomad Cruise program does an application process, which we can only hope helps to weed out the assholes who casted a dark shadow on the otherwise seemingly worthwhile program.
Life on a Spanish Ship
Despite the ship catering primarily to Spanish speakers, there was definitely a big effort made to the English speakers onboard. All announcements were repeated in English, all staff spoke English, and even the nightly shows included English translations. Language never presented any issues and it was great for practicing Spanish.
Typical to Spanish culture, dinner times were late. Very late. The early dinner seating began at 7:30, while the late service started at 9:45 and usually ran past 11:00.
Fun fact: although the Pullmantur is a Spain-based cruise line, the Monarch sails under the Malta flag.
Pullmantur Monarch Transatlantic Itinerary, Ports, and Excursions
During our transatlantic sailing on the Pullmantur Monarch, we stopped for a day each in Cartagena and St Maarten before making a beeline across the Atlantic to Lisbon.
Cartagena was a familiar port for us to spend the day in and we enjoyed revisiting the historic Old Town. St Maarten was an interesting new port for us to explore on both the French and Dutch side of the island. We found old forts, beautiful beaches, and of course the world famous Maho beach where commercial airlines buzz right past you before landing and take-off.
Both ports were easy and inexpensive to explore on your own. We used Uber in Cartagena and public transportation vans to get around St Maarten. The Monarch offered a few shore excursions in each port that were actually reasonably priced, yet we still preferred to explore on our own.
The May 2017 Pullmantur Monarch transatlantic cruise includes the additional ports of Antigua and Funchal. More on that in the “Recommendation” section of this Pullmantur Monarch review.
What The Pullmantur Monarch $159 Cruise Really Cost
Sure, the cruise itself was only $159, but you must also consider other obligatory expenses which adds to the total price. There are the inevitable taxes and port charges. These fees aboard on the Monarch were $172 per person, which seemed unusually high for the few ports we visited, and brought the cost of this voyage up to $331. Then you must also factor in the seemingly mandatory gratuities of $13 per day, which adds another $168 to your final bill.
So the true total cost of this cruise was $499, not $159. This is still a hell of a bargain, particularly including the open bar for 13 days!
Pullmantur Monarch Gratuities
Most cruise lines have suggested gratuities (usually around $10-$15 per person, per day) that are automatically charged to your onboard account unless you have specifically requested them to be altered higher or lower based on your satisfaction with the level of service. This service charge goes to your deserving stateroom attendant and to the wait staff. On our Monarch sailing, gratuities were a fixed amount and could not be adjusted, a first we’ve seen on a cruise.
Another interesting difference relating to gratuities on the Pullmantur Monarch was in relation to bar service. Most cruise lines charge additional gratuities for the bar staff. If you purchase an all-inclusive beverage package, cruise lines will usually hit you up with an added $10-$15 per day charge. On other cruises you’ll still need to pay that bar gratuity even if you received the drink package as a complementary bonus.
For example, during a Norwegian cruise we once received a “free” drink package (valued at $1,400) but the extra gratuities we were required to pay for it added nearly $400 to our bill. Yet on our Pullmantur Monarch cruise, there were no additional gratuities for their included beverage package. This is already covered within the daily gratuity amount of $13 per day. That’s really a good thing!
Other Costs & Expenses Aboard the Pullmantur Monarch
Unlike other cruise lines that tenaciously pitch add-ons to passengers, there was little else to spend money once aboard the Monarch. The few things you could spend money on, were actually pretty reasonable.
- If you wanted a 1.5 liter bottle of water, those were only $1. Alternatively you could order cups of bottled water from the bar for free.
- You could certainly donate some money to the casino if you choose.
- There were shore excursions for sale at fairly reasonable prices.
- Using the rock-climbing wall came with a $7 charge. (Worth it!)
- There were no specialty restaurants onboard the ship, but there were premium dishes available in the main dining room for a $10-$20 upcharge. We never thought it seemed worth it to splurge on them.
- Similarly, premium spirits were available for a $1-$3 upcharge, depending on the liquor.
- There was also a spa onboard offering services at an added cost.
- The Monarch’s slow speed wifi, of course, also incurs an addition expense. It’s not cheap either, with 100-minute packages starting at $35. Unlimited wifi was available for $20 per day, but you were required to purchase it for every day. Hence you would need to budget $260 to have unlimited spotty wifi for the entire voyage. Note: the wifi often didn’t work and you’d have to wait in a long line to get your minutes refunded.
Overall Pullmantur Monarch Review – Was It Worth It?
Sure this cruise had some quirks to it and it wasn’t quite as luxurious as other 4 and 5-star cruises we’ve been spoiled on. But overall this Pullmantur Monarch transatlantic cruise was excellent value for the money, even after all the other mandatory charges that brought the price up to $499 per person. For that price we wouldn’t hesitate to take another repositioning cruise on the Pullmantur Monarch.
At $499, the total price of the entire cruise came out to $38 per person, per day. I’m fairly certain we indulged in at least $38 of drinks per day. So I definitely felt we got way more than our money’s worth all while being transported across the Atlantic to Portugal.
Still, we would prefer to spend an extra hundred bucks or so to have a better experience on a much nicer ship than to sail on the Pullmantur Monarch again. Having cruised on transatlantics with Celebrity, Royal Caribbean, and Norwegian, for what was only slightly more; we felt the extra $5-$10 per night we’ve paid for those cruises have offered an enormous level of difference in the overall quality.
Should you take the Pullmantur Monarch repositioning cruise across the Atlantic? Ultimately that’s a personal decision that only you can answer. Despite some of the cruise’s shortcomings, we were happy with the Pullmantur Monarch overall, and particularly so for the price paid. But unfortunately last year’s rock-bottom pricing isn’t currently available, which changes our perspective on the cruise.
That lowely price of $159 is a thing of the past.
Given the higher price for the 2017 Pullmantur Monarch transatlantic combined with the expectation that there will be lower prices for nicer ships for last minute Spring 2017 sailings, we would opt for taking one of those other ships at a lower price than what the Pullmantur Monarch is currently being offered at.
Current Pricing for 2017 and How to Book
The current pricing at time of writing (
January March 7, 2017) of the Panama to Lisbon sailing is $418 plus an estimated $280 in port charges. Add to that about $195 in gratuities that you pay once on the ship and you get to a total cost of $893. So it’s not quite the bargain it was last year, but we think it’s still a pretty good deal. This price yields you an oceanview room too, so you’ll get a window and a better cabin configuration.
Cartagena to Lisbon sailing is
$465 $360 per person plus $250 port charges + an estimated $182 in gratuities. This comes to an estimated total of $897 $792 per person for an outside cabin, based on double occupancy.
The Costa Rica to Portugal sailing is currently priced at
$555 $603 per person for an ocean view cabin (inside cabins not available), plus $285 port charges + an estimated $208 in gratuities. This comes to a total of $1,048 $1,096 per person for the outside cabin for the 16 nights.
You can book these deals through VacationsToGo which unfortunately seems to only do phone bookings. Call: 1-713-974-1484 and cite FastDeal# 10952 for the Costa Rica sailing or FastDeal# 11716 for the Colombia voyage.
Would We Do It Again Given the Higher Price in 2017?
If I happened to already be in Colombia or Costa Rica in May and wanted to get over to Europe for the summer, we would sail again on the Pullmantur Monarch. Sure, it’s not the $159 deal it was last year, but it’s still pretty good value overall. Plus, this year, they’ve added two additional ports to the itinerary: Antigua and Funchal, which sounds very interesting and helps to justify the price increase. Also, you get a porthole with this higher price from Costa Rica.
But we would definitely NOT bother flying to Cartagena or Costa Rica just to take this cruise. I think there will be better last minute repositioning cruise deals on much nicer 4 & 5-star ships departing from Florida this Spring. Given the fact that you can sail on a nicer ship, for what is now likely to be a lower price, we would certainly recommend that instead. How do you find those deals? We offer you one suggestion in the section below, but you can also see our detailed Guide How To Find Last Minute Repositioning Cruise Deals for Under $50 Per Day.
Consider Other Cheap Repositioning Cruises on Nicer Ships
In fact, we’re already beginning to spot last minute deals on better ships for Spring 2017:
Right now there are currently a handful of ships sailing from Florida to Europe that are priced under $600, and will likely drop further. Take for example, The 5-star Norwegian Epic from Florida to Spain is already down to $549 (+$108 taxes +$169 gratuities = $826 total per person) and it could go even lower. We’ve sailed on the Epic before and it was, in fact, epic (water park, bowling ally, constant entertainment like Blue Man Group, etc.) You can find this epic deal on Priceline here. The search parameters to uncover it are as follows – Where: Transatlantic, Cruise line: Norwegian, Departure: April 2017, Length: 12+ days.
Note: We like to book cruises through Priceline whenever possible because they tend to have the lowest price, they’re one of the few sites that actually allow you to complete your booking entirely online, and they offer the perk of a $50 hotel voucher to repeat cruise customers. Using that link is also a way you can help support Roaming Around the World, as Priceline gives us a tiny commission which comes at no extra cost to you.
More Cruise Tips
Lastly, if you’re new to cruising or just want a refresher on what we think are some of the best cruise tips out there, be sure to check out our big cruise post revealing our Top 50 Cruise Hacks to Save Money, WiFi, Weight, & Hassle.
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