Ruby Princess R223 Grand Mediterranean 12 day cruise
Embarked in Venice at tea time after a day's travelling. No queues to check in and quickly arrived at our cabin. Rod, our steward came to see us immediately and welcomed us warmly telling us to let him know if there was anything we required and he would organise this. I asked for a couple of bathrobes, a daily supply of ice, and any 'to purchase' items in fridge to be removed. Then straight off to dinner.
We has asked for and were granted an early 6pm sitting, table for 8. We arrived at table 81 in Botticelli restaurant to find a table for 2. It appeared that there were a large number of extended families on this trip who had used up all the larger tables. I had always thought that tables for two were difficult to get, however we soon made friends with the two other couples either side of us, so it wasn't an issue. Our waiter, Lawrence, was excellent. He was very knowledgeable about the menu and gave us good advice throughout the cruise plus free speciality coffees and extra portions of popular dishes. His assistant, Itsel, was a charming young woman, new to this job, but definitely with potential. They looked after us beautifully.
I will mention the food just now. It was very good, both in the restaurant (always piping hot and fresh tasting) and the buffet. I too highly recommend the freshly made pizzas on deck 15, next to the ice-cream parlour. We never visited the 'paid for' restaurants or the International Cafe on deck 5, and never managed to get to any of the afternoon teas either. We used room service every morning for breakfast and this was good too. My husband also went to the buffet breakfast for his daily smoked salmon fix.
A word about our cabin. We booked fairly late on a guarantee balcony and were given C310, deck ten. We had heard that some balconies were overlooked on this ship (and Grand) but also that balconies on deck 10 were larger. This turned out to be correct. If you want a large balcony, go for deck 10. We were only partially overlooked from above so could sit in privacy if required. There were four chairs and a table on our balcony, two of the chairs reclined so I spent many an hour reclined with my feet on one of the other chairs reading and watching the waves in peace. Lovely. The cabin itself was well appointed. Plenty of storage space for our stuff and a comfy bed. Shower room had a curtain which I know some people don't like. It wasn't a problem for us. Shampoo, conditioner,soap and lotion provided in bottles, replenished regularly. Towels thick and soft. Two striped pool towels provided every day.
After dinner we went back to the cabin to prepare to go off the ship. We found two tickets on our bed for the water-shuttle to take us straight to St Marks Square. I think they were $15 each. We had already decided that we would walk into Venice from the ship, so we wrote our cabin number and name on the reverse of the tickets and posted them into the relevant drop-box so we wouldn't be charged for them.
Venice in the evening is magical. We had a map of sorts but just meandered around in the general direction of St Mark's, soaking up the wonderful atmosphere. There were signs along the way which helped a bit, but really it is not difficult walk to St Mark's. At 1am the ship left Venice and we were lucky enough to be on the correct side to watch St Mark's gliding past while we stood on our balcony. I understand that this special sight will soon be a thing of the past because large ships will be docking further away and bypassing the Grand Canal completely.
After a couple of days at sea we arrived at Athens (Sunday). We docked in Pireaus and had originally decided to take a train from there to Athens to catch a hop-on-hop-off bus outside the Syntagma Station in Athens. However, just outside the port we found a couple of HOHO buses waiting. We chose the yellow Athens Open Tour bus, 20 euros each. This took us to Athens and then we stayed on this bus to complete the tour. I have never seen so many ancient buildings and monuments in one place, wow, however I was disappointed to see that some monuments were covered in scaffolding. We will return again once the scaffolding is removed. Our bus tour guide told us that the special Sunday Changing of the Guard would be taking place outside the Parliament at about 10.30. We got off at this stop just in time to watch this special event. The tunics that the guardsmen wear have four hundred pleats, one for each year of Turkish rule. The soldiers have to iron each pleat themselves. I will never complain about ironing my husband's shirts again! After a walk in the adjacent National Gardens (where I photographed a very large tortoise wandering along a path), we caught our HOHO bus at the Melina Merkouri Plaka (by the Temple of Zeus) and returned to the ship for ice cold lemon juice and iced-tea from the buffet.
A word about the pools on Ruby. There are four main ones. I spent my entire time at the Calypso Pool because that is where the Movies under the Stars (MUTS) is. I love MUTS and this one of the reasons we chose Ruby over some other ships we considered. Music concerts and films were shown throughout the day and evening and in the late evening it was used to play Wii games too. Next door was Neptunes Pool where live music was played and pool games. There was a pool at the back and the Sanctuary pool, plus the children's area had a splash pool too.
The next day we stopped at Kusadasi, Turkey, and booked an excursion to the ancient city of Ephesus ($59 each). A very interesting trip, I recommend anyone to visit it.
The next morning was another excursion ($69 each), this time in Istambul. Due to a mix up on the ship, the coach had left before we got to the dockside. However, we were taxied to the coach which had stopped at the side of the road to wait for us. Phew! Topaki Palace is a stunning building. It was opened especially for the ship tours because it is usually closed on a Tuesday so we were lucky to see it. We walked around the massive building and grounds and saw the harem. The high point for me was seeing the 82 carat Spoonmaker's Diamond, one of a large collection of jewels and artefacts on display at the Treasury. We stopped at the Grand Bazaar on the way back and watched a carpet demonstration, fortunately this took just 20 minutes and then we visited the Blue Mosque, the Suleymaniye Mosque and the Bazaar before returning to the ship.
During my research on Istanbul we discovered there was a HOHO bus tour taking about one and a half hours with ten main stops and 73 request stops) starting at the Hagia Sophia.
The next day we arrived in Mykonos, Greece at 12 noon. Originally we were to be tendered to the town but actually docked a little way round the bay. A shuttle bus was provided, for a price, but it took twenty minutes to walk in along the coast road, past three lovely little beaches. You will be told that it is a dangerous walk (no pavements) and to take the shuttle, but it is not.
Mykonos is a charming little town, busy with tourists, but also with a lot of good shops and narrow windey streets and lanes. We bought some gifts here and beer to take back to the ship. During the cruise we regularly bought back beer and wine for our cabin, and this is ok on Ruby Princess. However, once we also brought back a litre of spirits, expecting to have it removed once we returned but this never happened, even though it was in a large bag labelled 'duty free'.
The next day, Thursday, was a welcome day at sea and a sleep in. The Princess Patter is filled with a large number of events and activities; sports, dancing, quizzes, films etc. However my choice was the Culinary Cook-Off Competition took place in the Princess Theatre between Executive Chef Shaun Candon and Maitre-D'Hotel Francesco Ciofito. I must urge you to go along to see this event, very, very funny and entertaining but also informative. It showed me that Shaun really knows his stuff and is committed to producing excellent dishes, consistently. This is clearly borne out by the food we ate during the cruise. A Galley Tour followed the show.
Friday found us at Naples, Italy. We have visited Naples on a number of occasions and visited all the famous places and done the HOHO bus tours (they pick up at the port, really convenient). This time we decided to try and walk up to the Castel san Elmo which dominates the port. First thing we noticed was that there was a police presence at the zebra crossing we needed to use to get into the town. This was welcome because it meant that traffic actually stopped when their light was red, to allow pedestrians to cross the road safely. Then we just walked in an uphill direction hoping that eventually we would get to the Castel. We did get really far up and quite far around the headland, and had some spectacular views of the town, but eventually we got to a dead end. On our return down we passed one of the Funicular railway stations and decided to get the train down to the port. This was a simple process and I recommend you try it yourself.
Saturday was Civitaveccia (for Rome). A free shuttle was provided by the port to the edge of the port, then just a ten minute walk along the road to the railway station. I had found a helpful website www.rometoolkit.com which gave details of travelling to Rome from Civitavveccia, with a link to www.trenitalia.com for train times. Train tickets cost 12 euroes each and journey took over an hour to get to Stazione Termini. By the way, toilets at the station cost 1 euro to access. Outside the station are a number of HOHO bus tours. We chose Green Line Tours 18 euros each. While we waited in a long queue to get on the bus (we had to wait while two buses filled up before we were able to get on) people already on these buses were buying the sun hats that various hawkers were trying to sell us -- they must have been desperate). We were lucky to get an open topped bus with a cover. This proved to be extremely welcome because it was very, very hot. We had been to Rome a few times before so we just did the tour, got off, and returned to the ship by train again. Back on board for 2pm to a virtually empty ship.
The next morning, Sunday, we stopped at Livorno, for Florence/Pisa. We had been to Florence/Pisa a couple of times before so opted to stay in Livorno. I had another reason to want to visit Livorno though. As a self-confessed 'cat person', Livorno is home to a colony based at the Fortezza Nuova, looked after by an elderly former lawyer who we have visited a few times in the past. To my dismay it was closed, being a Sunday! I could just see a lone black cat through a gap in the gate...
If you do take the train to Florence (takes about an hour and a half to two hours), you can get a HOHO bus, I understand they stop at the Florence Santa Maria Novella railway station. The City tour (line A) takes about one hour, the Fiesole tour (line B) takes two hours. Not sure of the price, but probably in the region of 20 euros just now.
The next day we were stopped at Monaco, only a half day, leaving at 1.30. This time we were taken ashore by tender. We walked up to the casino although it didn't open until 2pm. I understand that nowadays it attracts a fee of 10 euros to enter the casino, probably to get rid of the riff-raff who just go in to ogle (which we certainly have in the past). I understand that the slot machine area is free to enter though.
There were several excursions taking place from the ship to Eze (12th century castle), French Riveria, Nice plus Old Monaco, St Nicholas Cathederal and Royal Palace.
Disembarkation morning saw us in Barcelona. We had become platinum members because all our P&O cruises had been taken into account when calculating the total number of our cruise days. This meant we had preferred embarkation (it was irrelevant though because we arrived late and there was no queue!). It meant however that we could go to wait in the Disembarkation Lounge at the De Vinci Dining Room from 6am where pastries and coffee was provided and we would disembark at our allotted time at the door right next to the dining room. Our disembarkation time was 6.15am so we spent a grand total of 15 minutes at the lounge. However there was time for coffee, and it was convenient to just quickly walk off the ship. Once on land we quickly located our suitcases and were on our coach equally quickly. Very impressed with how quick and easy disembarkation was.
Another major plus of being a Platinum member was the free internet minutes we got - 250 each! These would normally cost $99 dollars each. This was significant because this was the first cruise we had had without our children. At 18 and 17 they were old enough to stay at home and they had other commitments anyway. We were able to 'chat' to them every evening via Facebook and this was great. We were also able to do a bit of last minute research on ports. Additionally, we booked in our return flights online and changed our seating numbers, plus printed off the vouchers for 50 cents. Once word of warning. Once your minutes are used up you will not be told, but will immediately start being charged per minute. I had assumed this would happen but my husband did not and thought that he would receive a message telling him that his time was up. Subsequently he spent four minutes extra on line and was charged 80 cents per minute. I was still 48 minutes under...
Finally, I don't think I have mentioned evening entertainment, there was a lot of choose from. The shows were good, the illusionist excellent, a couple of comedians, and a ventriloquist who had been 11th place in Britain's Got Talent (the same year as Susan Boyle). He was very good. Every evening was a film on MUTS which we mostly got to attend. I loved watching films in the open air and staff came round with popcorn, ice cream, pizza and cookies and milk. We were usually too stuffed from dinner to have any though.
A word about the other passengers. This cruise was filled with people from all points of the globe, with a great number of large groups and extended families, people from the UK in the minority. It meant that it felt like a real family experience. I don't believe that the ship was full because it felt like there was a lot of space, none of the venues felt crowded. We were never pressured to spend money on drinks packages, photos, bingo, or any other extras. There were art auctions but they were never intrusive. Photographers took pictures but again we were never hassled.
All in all we thoroughly enjoyed our cruise and would highly recommend Ruby Princess. It was clear that all staff were committed to our enjoyment and they seemed happy and motivated. We are glad we chose Ruby Princess.
I am certain that I have missed out lots of stuff, but hopefully some of the information will be of help to readers.