We left Ft. Lauderdale on Sunday, Apr. 8th. I have to admit, I was apprehensive about cruising on Princess. Our last cruise was 2 yrs ago on Disney and that seemed to be my husband's preference this time as well. However, a similar cruise on Disney was easily $2500 more than the Ruby and we just couldn't justify the price. Boy, am I glad we chose the Ruby Princess- it was wonderful! We got to the cruise terminal at 11:30 on Sunday. Lines were exceedingly long but they moved. It took approximately 45 minutes to get from outside the terminal onto the ship. One thing I really liked was that once you checked in and got your cruise card you could proceed directly onto the ship. There was no waiting for groups to be called, as the Disney cruise line does. The cabin was ready immediately so we could drop our carry-ons and change into the bathing suits we brought in them. We had no problem getting lunch at Horizon Court and had a great time in the Neptune pool. Some of the highlights of the cruise: 1. balcony was big enough to accommodate two chairs and a table- a big change from Disney's Navigator balcony 2. Cabin had plenty of storage 3. Flow of ship- the Ruby was packed that week but the public spaces never felt crowded. There is a wide variety of lounges. Crooners is the most popular but the Wheelhouse and Adagios are beautiful and serene 4. The Pelican's kids club (Ages 3-7) My son LOVED the kids club. He is somewhat shy and sometimes struggles to make friends. Not on this voyage. The counselors were warm, welcoming, and engaging. They were also firm and children were not allowed to stay on the computers or video games for the whole time, unlike Disney. Instead, they were expected to participate in all of the activities. My son got to know a whole tribe of 7 year olds and they had so much fun together! 5. The specialty restaurants- Sabatini's and the Crown Grill were(IMO) well worth the extra money. The food was fresh, well prepared and delicious. The service was top notch. 6. Entertainment on board even if you don't go to the shows. The band by the Neptune pool was excellent. At any time during the evening, you could catch many wonderful piano players, the ship's orchestra, the Ocean Sky band, or even Flamenco dancers!
What Princess didn't do so well: 1. Food in the Main Dining Rooms- Meh. Hit or Miss in both the quality of food, and the selection of dishes. The chefs/cooks there love their salt shaker. I will say that the breakfast buffet had wonderful fresh fruit, lots of choices, and every day there was a selection prepared by a chef that highlighted their different countries and cuisine. The pizza on Deck 15 was outstanding! Real pizza with delicious crust and fun specialty selections.
What Princess stinks at: Anytime Dining. Aargh! Our first day we went directly to the pursers desk to ask about making reservations for the specialty restaurants. We were told to dial ext 6219 and we could make reservations not only for those restaurants but also for Anytime Dining. I questioned the pursers several times bc I had been under the assumption that you couldn't make reservations for that. So I called the ext 6219. A lovely woman made arrangements for Sabatini's and Crown Grill no problem. When I asked to make res. for Anytime Dining, as I'd been told, I got the answer "...just show up, we don't take reservations." So on Monday, the second day of the cruise, we "just showed up" at 6pm to the Michelangelo dining room. To find a wait for a table for 4 for 35 minutes. I asked why couldn't we make reservations (as we had been told by the pursers' desk) and was told by a tiny, poisonous hostess that reservations were only available for 5:30 p.m. and 8:00 p.m. What? And why was there a sign outside the dining room directing diners "with reservations" to one side and diners "without reservations" to another? We ended up switching to Traditional Dining in the Botticelli dining room where we had a great table for 4 by the window. Our service may not have been spectacular (our waiter and asst. waiter had a high roller table behind us that sucked up all their time and attention) but it was consistent and we didn't have to have umpteen people give us umpteen different answers like with Anytime Dining.
As far as ports go, the Eastern Caribbean route- St. Maarten, St. Thomas, and Grand Turk were perfect for active families who love snorkeling and diving, beach lovers, and shoppers. I highly recommend the Buccaneers Snorkeling excursion for families. We snorkeled with sea turtles! Our Gibbs Cay excursion on Grand Turk was canceled. That was a bummer bc Gibbs Cay is great for snorkeling with children but the Scenic Boat ride, snorkel and hike was fun even if no one chose to do the hike! A word on that excursion- if you go, you must swim from the boat to the beach. Bring water shoes! On St. Maarten we went to the Butterfly House on our own. What a fascinating place! The guide Tito was great and showed us everything from eggs to chrysalis! It was a $7 per person cab ride from the port and then a $7 ride to go into Philipsburg or Marigot. Check out Blackbeard's Castle if your kids like pirate history or if you want to see the fantastic historical houses. It costs $14 per adult/$12 per kids but they have 2 pools you can swim in and absolutely beautiful views of the harbor and the island.
All in all, it was a fantastic cruise. Our cabin steward, Geraldo, was friendly and efficient and brought our son a chocolate chip cookie every night. The days at sea there is stiff competition for deck chairs, so plan to get up early and have your breakfast by the pool if you want 'em. We were really happy with the Ruby and would have no problem cruising on Princess again.