Overall impressions of this cruise:
1. It was a great itinerary. Only 2 sea days, but the port locations were fabulous. About half of the stops we had never been to before. We can't complain about any of the stops.
2. The Ruby Princess is a great ship. We've sailed on several Princess ships, and while we enjoy some of the smaller ships in the line, we never felt really crowded on this cruise. We're used to taking books with us to the Theater 30 minutes before a show to get good seats, this cruise we could walk in a few minutes before showtime (usually early shows) and get good seats.
3. Our cabin was P247 (Cat. EE, unobstructed oceanview) located near the art gallery. It's a good location and was not noisy at all.
4. Really enjoyed the Cruise Director Ron Goodman. He was very personable and was very visible around the ship. He's also not bashful about telling passengers where his office is and if you have a complaint, to stop in anytime (don't let it fester until the end of the cruise).
5. Our cabin steward Noel was excellent. He was very attentive to our cabin, and got our laundry back to us very quickly whenever we sent some out to be cleaned.
6. Art Director Chris has a personality that is always on the go. He tries to make everyone feel welcome.
7. Elite Perks -- first cruise since we got Elite status and we really enjoyed these perks. It's amazing what people will do to get free laundry service!
8. Dining Rooms -- we did anytime dining. We didn't do any specialty dining this cruise. Thought it was easy getting in at 6pm for dinner each night and we had very good wait staff. Service at dinner was good. Breakfast and lunch service was hit or miss. One morning for breakfast they never did bring around the pastry tray that we saw going thru other sections of the dining room. And it was sometimes difficult to get coffee at lunch to have with dessert.
Below are daily details of our cruise.
We flew in to Barcelona a day early and arrived about 8:30 am. We claimed our luggage and went to the Hotel Continental Barcelona, which is located on La Rambla. The hotel is reasonably priced and in a very good location. We dropped our luggage off and left to catch the Barcelona Bus Turistic, which offers a Hop On/Hop Off bus service around the city. We ended up doing all 3 routes on Saturday. This is a good way to see a large area of Barcelona.
On Sunday (June 6) we took a taxi over to the port. Check-in was extremely easy. We dropped our bags off, went thru the Platinum/Elite check-in line, and were on board within 20 minutes of our arrival. When we got on board, we called room service for some wine glasses so we could enjoy some of the wine we bought in Barcelona and carried on board. We had lunch at the Horizon Court and explored the Ruby for a while. When we got back to the cabin, our luggage had shown up so we got unpacked. Muster drill was at 1715 hrs, so we went to our location in the casino. When we got back to our cabin, we were surprised to find a platter of chocolate dipped strawberries from the Art Director (Chris) to welcome us back on board. We do enjoy the nice touches from Princess!
That night we went to the Princess Theater for the welcome aboard show. Best part of the show was comedian Tom Drake, who we enjoyed at other shows that upcoming week.
Monday we arrived in Monte Carlo. We were fortunate to be able to dock and not have to use the tender service that was originally scheduled. We ended up this cruise using the Princess tours. In Monte Carlo we did the Old Monaco, Royal Palace & St. Nicholas Cathedral half-day tour. The tour was very enjoyable, and we saw them setting up for the Grand Prix race that was the next weekend. The tour was not too physical, which was good considering what was coming up the next few days. On board ship that night, we saw comedian Tom Drake's full show in Explorers Lounge. Definitely worth seeing.
Tuesday we arrived in Livorno for tours in and around Florence. We booked the Florence, The Chianti Region & Wine Tasting tour. Since we had been to Florence a few years ago, we thought this would be a good chance to catch a few areas we had not seen in Florence during the morning. The morning in Florence was mostly free time, so we did some souvenir shopping and toured the Basilica of Santa Croce where Michelangelo and Galileo are buried (we missed this somehow 5 years ago). By lunchtime we had taken the bus up to Tuscany, where we had a nice lunch featuring some good Chianti wine. After lunch we went to a wine tasting. We were able to sample about 10 wines, and purchased some bottles to take back to the ship (Over the 15 cruises we've been on, we have bought wine in several ports and have never had any trouble taking it back on board to our cabins). That night, the first production show Stardust was in the Princess Theater. We hadn't seen this one before so we went and did enjoy it. The singers and dancers always do a good show on the Princess ships.
Wednesday was another full day after we arrived in Civitavecchia. This is the port for going in to Rome. We did the Forum, Trevi Fountain & Time On Your Own tour. The morning part of the tour is a walking tour thru Rome that started at the Trevi Fountain (where we did throw coins in so that we would get to return to Rome again) and went around to the Coliseum and Forum areas. Very physical tour just as Princess described. The afternoon we were dropped off near the Vatican for a few hours of free time. We ended up doing the Vatican Museum tour and got to see the Sistine Chapel this trip. Allow a few hours to visit this Museum. On board ship that night, we went to see Ventriloquist Damon Scott in the Princess Theater. Our opinion, find any other show or activity to go to. His show was very lame and judging from the comments we heard most everybody else that was there agreed with us.
Thursday meant we arrived in Naples for another day of tours. We did the Pompeii & Amalfi Coastal Drive. This was a great tour. We enjoyed the drive up the Amalfi Coast that morning, there is a lot of scenic coastline to see. One word about this tour -- many of the towns have traffic control because some of the roads can't handle buses passing each other on some spots along the curving road. You'll see some vehicles a few inches from the bus as you're on the road. We had a nice lunch in Amalfi, then drove back to Pompeii. The ruins they've uncovered there are amazing. One of the people on the tour said he was there over 20 years ago, and that it was nowhere near as impressive as it is now. Touring Pompeii is over a lot of cobblestone streets and going up/down thru the city. Some areas are pretty congested where people are trying to see the wall decorations that are still visible after 2,000 years. On board ship entertainment that night was vocalist Michelle Montouri in the Princess Theater. Her show was definitely better than the ventriloquist, but was not very well attended. Theater was over half empty for the early show.
Friday arrived which meant we finally got a day at sea! Time to rest after several busy port days. On board we did our usual -- played trivia, went to the art auction, and had some pictures made since this was the first formal night. That night the Captain's Welcome Aboard party was in the Atrium, and Princess has combined that with the Champagne waterfall (which used to be a separate event but which I guess has been combined to save costs). It's amazing how many people attend to get the free champagne they serve. One nice perk we enjoyed during our first cruise as Elite was ordering the chocolate dipped strawberries as the complementary Canapes before dinner. After dinner we saw the second production show of the cruise Broadway Ballroom which was also a very good show.
Saturday meant we arrived in Mykonos. Contrary to what our itinerary said, we were able to dock and did not have to use tenders to get ashore. This day we decided to use the shuttle service into town (it was 7 euros/person roundtrip). I would definitely advice using this service instead of taking a tour. It is very easy walking through town and finding your way around. The white buildings with the blue or red trim are what you expect to see on this cruise. While in town, we saw the pelican which is the mascot of Mykonos. The pelican is very used to people -- you can get very close to make some great pictures. This is one of those ports where you get to set your own pace and enjoy the people and local cuisine while resting up for some more busy port days ahead.
Sunday was Istanbul, Turkey. We did the St.Sophia, Topkapi, Blue Mosque & St Irene Church tour, which was a good all day tour. Being Sunday, the Great Bazaar was closed. It's too bad Princess couldn't have rearranged port calls so that we could have visited the Great Bazaar. In town, we also got to visit a Turkish rug factory. The demonstration and skill of the people is amazing and their creations are amazing. Be cautious outside the demo, the street vendors are selling LOW priced so-called Turkish rugs and items, and these vendors can be aggressive. One followed a lady to our bus and knocked on the windows trying to get her to come out and bargain. While many of the locations we toured were impressive, the area around the Blue Mosque is worth seeing. One site we had not expected to see were the boys in ornate gowns with their families near the Blue Mosque. Our guide told us these boys were celebrating going to be circumcised the next day and looked forward to the day they got to dress up and go around town. We also got to go in the Blue Mosque, which we were surprised to find allows pictures inside. It is a very beautiful building. Expect to see large crowds there.
Monday we were in Kusadasi, Turkey. This is near the ancient city of Ephesus. However, we had seen so many ruins at earlier stops we decided to take it easy and just tour Kusadasi on our own. This town is definitely the place to shop for fake goods. As our cruise director said on the Wake Show, this is one of the best ports for buying good fakes. In town, they also advertise that. One shop had a sign with large lettering across the window "GENUINE FAKE WATCHES". You name the brand and they had it. Also had a lot of cheap RayBan sunglasses for sale. In town, there is also an information location where you can get information on using the city bus to get around town. The Ladies Beach (it's now open to men and women) was maybe a 10 minute ride from the center of town. Back on board ship, the entertainment that night was comedian Al Katz. We saw part of his show in the Princess Theater (we had to leave early so we could go play Country Music Trivia which my wife won easily) and thought he was very funny. Luckily he was going to be in Explorers the next night so we didn't feel too guilty about leaving early.
Tuesday we arrived in Piraeus, Greece which was the port for Athens. This was definitely one of the highlights of the cruise for us. We had looked forward to seeing the Acropolis for years. We did the Acropolis, National Museum and Plaka tour. The tour starts with a bus ride to the Acropolis, where you have to climb the stairs to get to the Acropolis. Restoration work appears to be a very on-going activity. But the restored ruins are amazing and are the highlight of any cruise. We also got to visit the Olympic Stadium which was used the last time Greece hosted the Olympics. The National Museum has a large number of relics on display, including many beautiful statues and gold jewelry. The day ended in the Plaka, which is the opportunity to do some shopping for souvenirs on your own. That night we went to Explorers and caught Al Katz's comedy show. Glad we got to see his whole show.
Wednesday and we're having our second sea day of the cruise. Sea days are meant to relax -- unfortunately with this itinerary you don't get very many of them. Besides playing trivia we got caught up on laundry. We sent off what dirty clothes we had to be laundered on board (yes, we do like the free laundry service we now get after becoming Elite) so we could pack clean clothes for the trip home. Also went to the Princess Grapevine wine tasting (another Elite perk). That night was the second formal night. We went to the Past Passengers reception that night. The statistics were interesting -- out of 2,960 passengers we had 1,100 Gold, 300 Platinum, and 87 Elite. That meant over half of the ship was first time passengers on Princess. The show that night was the Once Upon a Dream production show. Probably the best production show on the cruise. We also saw the Marriage Game Show -- it's funny watching some of the answers you get from the contestants.
Thursday we arrived at our last stop, Venice. It's enjoyable standing along the rail listening to the music on the PA system as you cruise along and see the canals for the first time. We were the fifth ship to dock that day -- Venice was certainly hopping with tourists. After we got in town we found out that qualifying races for the America's Cup were scheduled thru the weekend in the canals. In town we did the Ca' Rezzonico, Doge's Palace & St. Mark's Basilica tour. St. Mark's Basilica and the Doge's Palace were definitely worth seeing, but much of the best sites in Venice can be found just wandering around thru the town on foot. This tour had a tour guide that was not our favorite -- she had an annoying habit of telling the group a description of a room or item, then asking a tour member if they understood what she said and asking them to repeat it back to her. Then she'd complain that she might have to repeat her speech. Once or twice was OK, but this went on for several hours.
Friday we got off the ship and went to our hotel near the cruise terminal. Disembarkation was very smooth. Only took us a few minutes to find our bags and get the our bags dropped off for transfer to our hotel. We stayed at the Hotel Olimpia. This is a very nice hotel. Rooms are comfortable and the morning breakfast that is included was very good. When we got to the hotel we dropped our my backpack off and got water bus tickets for the entire day to ride any of the canal routes. We toured around the city that morning before going back to St. Mark's Basilica, where we had lunch at the Hard Rock Cafe. Then we found out the water buses and taxis were shutting down due to the America's Cup quarterfinals from lunch until dinner. Talk about disrupting traffic on the water! We found a good viewing spot on the canal and watched the ships sailing up and down the canal. After a few hours we walked back about 1.5 miles to the hotel. The walk was enjoyable and we got to see some areas away from some of the big tourist areas.
Saturday we got up and caught the airport shuttle bus about 300 yards from our hotel. Hotel was definitely in a good location and the shuttle bus is a cheap way to get to the airport. At the airport, expect to stand in line. Took us about 45 minutes to check in and drop our bags off. Then had to go thru security before we got to go to the gate. When we boarded, I got stopped for another security screening of my backpack and camera bag (full hand search which took several minutes). Finally got on board for our return home from a great vacation.