When it was time to plan a vacation for our one year anniversary, I knew my wife would want a relaxing beach vacation. But the task of finding one awesome beach resort in the whole Caribbean became daunting. So, I thought, "Hey! Cruising would be a good way to see several islands and relax on several beaches with all of the amenities of a world class resort escorting you around."
So, we book this Ruby Princess cruise out of FLL. We were very excited, though I had hesitations and wondered if I shouldn't have booked with someone else (like Celebrity). But I opted Princess for the what seemed like a superior itinerary and no stretch of more than 1 day at sea.
Embarkation: Whatever you do, don't show up at noon. The lines move fast, but they're LONG. This took roughly an hour, and I think if you follow the cruise line's advice to wait til 2:00 PM, the process would be much faster and fewer people would be in line. Otherwise, not much to it and goes by fast.
Ship: Very impressive and very fancy. Wife has been on a Carnival cruise and she commented on how fancy it look compared to Carnival ships and how the staff at Princess were much friendlier and more helpful.
Day 1: Our stop at Princess Cay was cancelled. Needless to say this was a major bummer due to the fact that it is a Princess owned resort and we would have been right at the beach with food included on the island for lunch. As a result of the cancellation, we spent two back to back days at sea, not happy as this was my reason for booking this cruise (no back to back days at sea).
Day 2: Another sea day. I'm not a big pool person, so without that, I found myself bored during the afternoons. There is a lot going on, but not a lot I was personally interested in. Would've been more tolerable had we stopped the day before like scheduled.
Day 3: St. Marteen. Let's just say this began the process of shattered expectations. We pull in along 5 OTHER CRUISE SHIPS. When you reach the end of the pier, you're in a cruise village type shopping center that ends with an area to catch a taxi. No, you don't need a taxi to get to the closest beach, but yes, no one tells you this. So we got suckered in. It is a bit of a walk, as we did walk back, but it beats paying $4 per person for the taxi that takes you less than a mile away. We got to the beach to find every inch of it covered in chairs and umbrellas, all for rent. We didn't plan on renting so we settled down in an area and used the umbrellas we brought with us. Didn't take any time at all for the locals operating the renting business to run us off as we were "obstructing" the view of his customers. LAME. We were also offered drugs multiple times, but they quit when we showed no interest. There is a nice open air bar that we spent a majority of our time in. We never made it to the French side, but later on we found out from others that it was much more desirable. Go there and pay the taxi driver to take you as it is multiple miles away. Probably about $9 per person taxi fare.
Day 4: St. Thomas. Again not what we expected, but we were the only ship. Still had to take a taxi which is frustrating. Went to the downtown area which was closest ($3-$5 per person), and walked around. Before our taxi even stopped, we were mauled by local tour operators. It was so aggressive at first we thought we were being mugged. However, ironically we wound up with an incredible tour and tour guide. Roy Sheridan, a veteran tour guide of 30+ years and voted by the local Chamber as best tour operator. He told us it gave him privileges to take us to see things that others weren't allowed to go. This ultimately meant Blue Beard's castle complex, which was kind of neat. This guy was so knowledgeable and the tour so comprehensive that we finally did consider ourselves lucky to run into Roy and enjoy a nice tour. $25 per person. Excellent tour.
Day 5: Grand Turk. Didn't arrive until later in the day, but finally a port that we walk down to the pier and were right at the beach. Chairs were free, plenty of shade under palm trees, and a beautiful day. Also, Jimmy Buffet's Margaritaville is right at the pier and has excellent atmosphere. This was the best stop by far, keeping in mind we never made it to Princess Cay.
Day 6: At Sea. By the time you are at Grand Turk, you are already half way back to FL, yet you have a whole day and whole night to get back according to the schedule. The ship was going so slow as to avoid arriving before scheduled, which means we should have stopped at Princess Cay on the way back. There is no reason we could not have stopped and still had plenty of time to cruise back to port on time. This would have been such a good idea, but it obviously didn't occur to anyone in charge.
Disembarkation: Easy enough. Wanted to do express walk off where you take all of your own luggage off yourself and get to go first off the ship, but we had so much time to kill before our flight that we opted to do our assigned time so we could 1) eat breakfast and 2) kill some time.
Other worthy notes: Use Avis rent-a-car if you need to get around. They have a shop across from the Port at the Hyatt and a shuttle that runs for free from the ship to their shop and vice versa. Make sure you pay attention to how much gas they give you though and get it in writing, as I got screwed later by the store in Miami Int for not bringing it back full when I received it with only a 1/4 tank.
Go see the comedians. Miguel is especially funny. See David Cats the Illusionist. Very good. The variety shows aren't the greatest, especially the one about the dream... it was so weird and incomprehensible. Dining hall is great, much better than the buffet. But dining hall, buffet, pool deck grill and pizzeria were all good and satisfactory. Lots of people on these reviews complain of the food being poor quality, but I never encountered something that was undercooked or anything. Yeah you may not like something, but there are plenty of options to get something you do like.
We loved the experience, though we probably won't do this itinerary ever again. We have very little to complain about with Princess, but being young, we will probably try other lines too.