Taking a cruise across the Atlantic on the Pullmantur Monarch was an interesting proposition to take.
For those who’ve been following our round the world adventures for a while, you know that we love utilizing repositioning cruises as an 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.
We’ve taken over ten repositioning cruises and have even strung together a series of them to form a cruise completely around the world. (You can read our detailed budget and strategies on how we pulled that off in this separate post: How To Achieve the Impossible: A Cheap World Cruise.) Yet this Pullmantur Monarch cruise remains the absolute cheapest repositioning cruise we’ve ever come across.
This Pullmantur Monarch transatlantic cruise had the lowest price we’ve ever seen: $159 per person! Can you believe it? Cheers to that!
We’re now spilling all about this deal of the century in this Pullmantur Monarch review!
Pullmantur Monarch Review of a Two-Week Cruise for $159
During the many other transatlantic cruises we’ve taken during our global journeys, we usually pay 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), it’s easy to realize what an incredible deal these repositioning cruises can be. It’s 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. We simply could not refuse. With this Pullmantur Monarch cruise coming out to a meager $12.23 per night, 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 Pullmantur Monarch. We couldn’t find any Pullmantur Monarch reviews online. And Pullmantur was a relatively unknown cruise brand to us.
We soon 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. As Americans, 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 further learned that Pullmantur is owned by the familiar cruise company, Royal Caribbean. This gave us more confidence to book the Pullmantur Monarch transatlantic voyage for a lowly $159 per person. What a steal!
So how was this ultra-low priced cruise?
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. Getting to the port of Colon brings upon its own challenges, as this is not a common port to disembark from. Yet it gave us a good excuse to re-explore the metropolis of Panama City for a few days before taking a 90-minute Uber ride to Colon.
Upon arrival, the embarkation process was the slowest and most unorganized we had ever experienced in the dozen cruises we’ve been on. It was a small window to check-in, between Noon to 2:00. So we arrived right in the middle at 1:00 pm, 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 over three hours of waiting in line.
We were famished by the time we finally boarded the Pullmantur Monarch 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 for the next two weeks ahead. 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, we think having the window would have been worth that $80 upcharge, given that it breaks down to the lowly price of $6 extra per night.
Our inside cabin was on the small side compared to other cruises we’ve sailed on. The Pullmantur Monarch cabin 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 complimented the cabin in size, as it was similarly tiny. Toiletries consisted of a bar of hand soap and some shampoo that doubled as a body wash. This was adequate, but nothing fancy.
The space itself was certainly 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 mostly enjoyed the Pullmantur Monarch ship itself, the common areas, and the layout of the cruise. For a relatively older ship (1991), we expected to find more wear & tear, but the Monarch was actually in decent 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, shuffleboard, 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 cruise, 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 live music.
Another aspect of the Pullmantur Monarch that seemed different than other cruises 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, we 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 during this cruise weren’t nearly as rough.
The All-Inclusive Drink Package on the Pullmantur Monarch
The drinks aboard the Pullmantur Monarch were 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.
We were absolutely delighted to find drink menus that included brands such as Bacardi rum, Beefeater gin, and Stoli vodka.
When ordering drinks on the Pullmantur Monarch, 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 onboard the Monarch was also decent and we particularly enjoyed the Spanish cava, sparkling wine.
A big miss in the drink department were the beers. The only included beer was Miller Genuine Draft. Or 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 such an unremarkable beer as Corona.
But while the beer was a miss, the coffee was yet another hit. A nice variety of expertly crafted and caffeine-rich espresso-based drinks helped greatly to counteract the time changes of constantly losing an hour of sleep. 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, our expectations we low. 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 filet mignon or lobster, as we’ve been spoiled with on other cruises. The most memorable and tasty dish was a particularly tender and saucy oxtail.
We thought most dishes were average or above. A few dazzled and others bombed. The final dessert courses left us with full bellies and smiles on our faces. Although sometimes we opted for cheese plates instead of a sweet treat, which nicely complemented the included wine pours we enjoyed with each dinner.
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. It 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 with other cruisers. While there were some activities, it usually wasn’t a packed agenda aboard the Pullmantur Monarch.
Each afternoon there was a game or two by the pool, which was followed by trivia at one of the inside lounges. At night there was occasionally a game show 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-week 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 major 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 singalongs, 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,
- rollerblading around the jogging track while knocking into seniors who were attempting to walk laps,
- girls mouthing off to security after breaking the ship’s law by sunbathing nude,
- 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. We’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 upcoming April 2020 Pullmantur Monarch transatlantic cruise includes the additional ports of Antigua and Ponta Delgada (Azores). More on that in the “Recommendation” section of this Pullmantur Monarch review.
What The Pullmantur Monarch Cruise Really Cost
Sure, the cruise itself was only $159. But you must also consider other obligatory expenses which add to the total price. There are the inevitable taxes and port charges. These fees aboard on the Pullmantur 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 the final bill.
So the true total cost of this cruise was $499, not $159. We find this to still be a hell of a bargain for a two-week cruise, 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 the deserving stateroom attendant and to the wait staff. On our Monarch sailing, gratuities were a fixed amount and could not be adjusted.
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 purchasing an all-inclusive beverage package, cruise lines will usually hit you up with an added $10-$15 per day charge for bar-staff gratuities.
On these other cruises, you’ll still need to pay that bar gratuity even if you received the drink package as a complimentary 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. Thier included drinks package really is totally free drinks. That’s quite a nice perk!
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 Pullmantur 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 that same 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 additional 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 an 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! It was an incredible value!
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 effortlessly 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. Everyone has different tastes, standards, and opinions. For us, despite some of the cruise’s shortcomings, we were happy with the Pullmantur Monarch overall, and particularly so for the price paid. We would certainly take the Pullmantur Monarch again if it were at a similar price point.
Update: For April 2020, the Pullmantur Monarch is doing another transatlantic voyage with cut-rate pricing. This time, it’s for $269 + taxes & gratuities. This 2020 sailing further includes visits to Antigua and the Azores, in addition to having an overnight in Lisbon. In our personal opinion, that’s all worth the extra $100 in price. Also, know that the Pullmantur Monarch underwent a $10-million 3-week refurbishment in May 2018 to help brighten up this old ship.
Another aspect to consider is the cost and effort of getting to the departure port of Colon, Panama. While it is possible to find reasonably-priced flights from many points in the US and Latin America to Panama City, doing so may still add greatly to the overall trip cost. If ports in Florida or along the east coast are more easily accessible, you may find that transatlantic cruise departing from there may be of a higher quality and ultimately cost even less, after factoring in flights.
We show where to find these other cheap repositioning cruise bargains in this separate post:
- Read more: How to Find the Best Repositioning Cruise Deals!
Even 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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