My wife and I recently returned from a 12 day Barcelona to Venice cruise on the Ruby Princess from 10th August to 22nd August. This was our first cruise and we absolutely loved it (more of that later!).
As this was our first cruise we used this website a great deal to find things out about the ship, ports and a whole lot more. As someone that doesn't usually write posts on forums, I felt compelled to write a post about our cruise because reading other people's posts helped us so much. Hopefully I can add some additional valuable information that might assist others!
Before I start, I should mention that the Ruby Princess is a wonderful ship, as a couple in their mid thirties who have travelled a great deal and experienced many different holidays, this cruise was up there on our best holidays list. Cruising wasn't something that we had thought about really, and it was only when we saw a good deal we thought, hey why not. And boy are we glad we did! It was a great experience and I think the first of what, will most likely be, many cruises.
The cruise overall was brilliant and I wouldn't hesitate in recommending a cruise with Princess. We utilized private tours in 1 port which was good. We utilized two Princess ship tours -- 1 was ok the other not so much.
This cruise visited Barcelona, Monaco, Florence/Pisa, Rome, Naples, Mykonos, Istanbul, Ephesus, Athens, and Venice.
Ok, so, as per the photos, it's a big ship. Lots to do, lots to explore. To get the most out of it you need to be organised and work out just what sort of a cruise you want. Whilst this cruise is very port intensive, we found you can still have a relaxing time in-between visiting some amazing places.
We found the ship very clean, with everything open & working well. We didn't find it crowded, even when at sea when the 3,000 passengers and 1,100 crew were all onboard (and I think the ship was full with no spare cabins). We always had seats at both Movies Under the Stars and in the Princess Theatre.
We saw all three production numbers and enjoyed them all. We also saw the illusionist who was great (and my wife usually hates magicians), we saw the crew show which I thought was soooo funny. We also saw a couple of comedians who were good. When we visit hotels if I am honest we don't usually sit through the entertainment laid on as they are not usually that good. However, we were both really impressed with the entertainment onboard Ruby Princess.
We also saw 3 or 4 films at Movies Under the Stars which was great. We usually got there 10 mins before the film started and always found a lounger. We were also always offered Pizza, popcorn and milk and cookies during the films which we found was a nice touch.
We embarked at 3pm in Barcelona and witnessed no queues, walking straight on once we had our cards. After a little look around the ship and a bit of food we returned to our cabin to find our cases outside our room.
Disembarkation was a little more complex due to our flights being late in the evening (9.40pm). We had to check out the room by 8am and our bags had already been picked up the night before. However, we were allowed to stay on board all day, leaving the ship at 6pm to take our transfers. Everyone was great, we had food and drink onboard all day (and a nice 3 course lunch in the di Vinci restaurant). It did feel slightly strange as more and more new passengers came aboard but it was funny as many of the staff recognised us and asked when our flights were. Top tips if you are getting off late. The tables in Piazza on deck 5 all have power sockets by the side of them if you need to charge devices.
We were at the back of the boat in room B739. I expected the room to be relatively small but actually it was more spacious than I thought it would be. Plenty of places to store clothes and belongings. The only major problem we had was sockets. I had read somewhere (incorrectly as it turns out) that the room had UK, EU and US sockets. It doesn't, its US only and whilst I thought I a US adapter, I actually had everything but. By the time I realised the shop had none left, neither did our room steward or customer services. In the end we got one in a port a few days later. A great tip though is to take a cheap extension lead. We plugged it in and then had 4 sockets to charge multiple items at once which was very handy. There is also a spare socket behind the TV that many people miss.
The room had a safe (with no additional fee) and the bed was really good. At home we have a huge expensive and very comfortable bed so I often joking complain on holiday about the bed but no complaints on the Cruise, the bed was ace.
The room has a lot of hangers but if you need more, just ask your steward and a large hanging rail for clothes.
Not a great deal to report, drink prices were as expected, $5 for a beer, $8 for cocktails and always 15% added on service charge. We got the soda package and were glad we did, it seemed quite good value ($45 for the cruise / $4 a day) and included coke, diet coke, sprite, tonic water etc. You get an insulated drink holder included and we filled up and took these out on excursions (although be careful as they are not completely water tight). Water is free and available at the drink stations located at the horizon cafe and cafe caribe. We took a couple of 0.5l water bottles with us and filled up with ice and water when we needed to, all free and useful on trips where the weather gets hot. The drink stations also have tea, ice tea and coffee facilities and it's all free and help yourself (inc milk, sugar etc). I love a cup of tea before bed and so always stopped here before retiring to bed and the tea was ok, English breakfast, earl grey and Darjeeling (the supposed champagne of teas -- really?!) I had taken a few of my own as well. One tip if you feel like splashing out $1.50 is the pot of tea you can get at the international cafe, it was premium and you could get a good 3 cups out of it and it was very good tea. During mealtimes lemonade is also offered for free and was good.
I'd heard that bringing alcohol was limited to one bottle of wine but a few people id spoken to had managed to get other stuff onboard. I only saw one person get booze confiscated and this is returned at the end of the cruise. Wine wasn't too badly priced as well, when ordered with the meal the dining staff keep the rest of the bottle if you don't finish it and bring it out the next meal for you.
We opted for anytime dinning and after trying both the Michelangelo and di-vinci, found the service in the service in the Michelangelo to be the best. We only had to wait twice to be seated on our own and both times it was formal nights when we were at sea for the day. On these days people seemed to go early for dinner and we had a 30 minute wait only. You can also book times in the anytime restaurant by calling them up on the day and we did this a few times. The staff were incredible, so attentive and the service was amazing. The food was also of an exceptionally high standard, so very tasty. One tip (for free drinks) is order anything on the menu that has alcohol in it. There was a peach Daiquiri soup on the menu one day and it was simply a free cocktail.
The Di-Vinci restaurant was good for breakfast as the Horizon breakfast buffets on deck 15 can get very busy and you feel very rushed there. When we did eat the breakfast buffets I found it very stressful, where as nobody uses the Di-Vinci restaurant for breakfast, the food seemed warmer and cooked to order and the atmosphere was much better and not so rushed. The same goes for lunch, Di-Vinci is open for lunch and not many people seemed to know this. We had a couple of amazing lunches. Don't get me wrong, the food in the Horizon cafe is lovely, but it's just more hustle and bustle.
The burgers were also very good by the pool and the pizza was too. Ice cream is also fee and I highly recommend the international cafe, serving up lovely desserts 24 hours a day as well as great salads and toasted sandwiches, all included at no additional cost.
I would also recommend going to the cooking show in the princess theatre which includes a tour of the kitchens after, that was a great hour and very funny. How they managed to create 250,000 meals per cruise and retain such high quality food is simply staggering to me.
With regards to the other supplement restaurants (crown grill, Sabertini's etc) we didn't use them because the food was so good in the main restaurants. We meant to, but just didn't get around to it and were not bothered that we didn't.
Great service, all included, no extra charge, and very useful for tea and coffee in the mornings! You could also order fruit in the room which was nice.
This is a tricky one as everyone has different ideas. We had visited quite a few of the ports already and had invested Â£10 in Rick Steve's Mediterranean cruise ports book which was absolutely invaluable. I think a new version is out in September. It gave great information on all places included where the boats dock, what the options were regarding transport and great coverage on what to see and what to miss. For each port, my tips would be as follows, noting we always docked in harbour and had no tenders:-
Monaco -- Boat docked on the Marina and all places can be reached in short walking distance. We had been to Monaco before so knew where we were going and didn't book any trips. In all we covered 7 miles walking but it was a great day and relatively cheap. Seeing the changing of the guard at 11.55 was great.
Florence -- for this one we booked a Princess excursion to Florence which was part tour, part own time and this worked well for us. We had the book and saw what we wanted in the time. It's a bit of a drive to Florence so it was good to have that part taken care of. Some people we spoke to had done Pisa only or Pisa & Florence and generally they wished they had done the same as us. Most people said there wasn't a great deal in Pisa and doing both meant much more time on the coach and not as much time in Florence.
Naples (Pompeii, Sorrento, Amalfi Coast) -- For this one we took a tour with an external company, cruising excursions. This was considerably less than the equivalent Princess tour and just as easy. We had a great day although I did feel a little green at the end of it driving up and down and round all the mountain bends. I've read a few other similar comments about tours driving around the Amalfi coast, especially around Positano. Don't get me wrong, the views are incredible, it's just that the local drivers seem to drive so very fast and it's not something I think I would do again (unless I was driving at a far slower speed!)
A lot of people on our tour said the same- amazing views but scary journey. Pompeii was so interesting and out guide took us in the back entrance which wasn't as busy as the main entrance. Think we paid Â£45 each for the day cruise and although we were back an hour later than planned (roads were busy as it was a national day holiday in Italy) we were still back 2 hours before the boat left.
As Rome -- We stayed onboard this day as we had spent a week in Rome a few years ago. We were pleased we did as the itinerary until this point had been quite full on.
Mykonos - We got the Princess coach transfer from port to beach which seemed to take 5 minutes and cost 7 euros each I think. A little pricy for what it was and you could have walked it in 20 mins but I'd still take the coach again for ease. A great little place and we didn't feel the need to take a tour, we just explored the lovely back alleys and coastline.
Istanbul -- For this one we again didn't take a tour, just the Princess bus to the Grand Bazaar. We did think about it but didn't get around to booking it. I was worried we wouldn't get to see all the things we wanted to but actually, it turned out great, we saw them all, toured around using the Rick Steves book and saved a lot of money over the princess tour which was $199 each for the same. It cost us 60 euros. The Grand Bazaar was both gigantic and interesting to walk through -- supposed to be over 2,000 shops (many of which sell the same items). You are required to remove shoes and have proper clothing to enter Blue Mosque. Women are given shawls to cover shoulders and head. And my advice, have a little decency and respect this by keeping them on whilst in the Mosque. Seeing people remove these was completely disrespectful in my eyes.
Kusadasi -- For this one we booked a Princess excursion -- Ephasus and Terraced houses which was absolutely great. We loved it, a great trip. The only downside was that it was supposed to be 5 hours yet we were back in Kusadasi in just over 3 hours before our guide then wanted to take us on a carpet tour. We were not interested and declined and returned to ship before then doing some shopping. I felt a little short changed with this one given it was supposed to be 5 hours and complained onboard and got some of the money back. We bought a few items, a lamp and a pair of shoes. Haggling is good but you have to walk into the shops knowing what you would be prepared to pay for something. I saw some nice shoes and the owner started at 120 euros. I started at 20 knowing I would be prepared to pay 35 euros. It took a while but we got there in the end. Like I said to my wife, they are probably only worth 15 but hey, it's all about what you think something it worth and what you are willing to pay. For the light my wife bought, they started off at 30 euros and without her even saying anything it came down to 12 euros after about 5 minutes.
Athens -- We decided to get the hop on hop off (HOHO) bus from the port that was 20 Euros each. There are two routes, the blue route from the port around a few harbours and into central Athens and then a Red route around Athens. The 2 routes cross at the Acropolis. I had been to Athens before but my wife hadn't. Visiting the ruins was amazing, the views from the top are breathtaking and we had a few audio guides (podcasts by Rick Steves) to help us understand it all. It was hot but very worthwhile. The tour of Athens itself (on the red bus line) was, to be frank, rubbish. I found Athens to be the same as it was the last time I visited 10 years ago, dirty and smelly with not much to see. Ok, it was a Sunday so perhaps a lot was closed. But we couldn't wait to get back onboard. Central Athens is very run down, graffiti is everywhere and apart from the main historic ruins, there is very little else to see. The audio guide on the bus only proved this when it started to point out the heart hospital, I mean really, is an old hospital specialising in heart conditions and point of note on a tour? Bonkers. If we did this cruise again, I wouldn't get off here.
Venice -- sailing in was incredible and we decided to go up to deck 15 as music and commentary was playing. Get their early as it was very busy by the time we got close to the grand canal, 4 people deep in some places.
Again we had been here before for a week so didn't feel the need to take a tour. Princess gave us tickets for a boat trip from the port to St Mark's square for $17 each which seemed to me like a con. It's also automatically added to your account unless you return them. We did return them and instead we took the people mover from the port to the station (1 euro each) and then walked to St Marks Square, taking in all the sights on the way, including the Rialto Bridge. We spent a lot of time on the way down, stopping in shops, down alleyways and taking lots of pics, getting lost etc so it took us a few hours. But the way back, directly from St Marks to the ship was 50 minutes and 2 miles. We did consider using the local boats which cost 20 euros I think for 24 hours use but walking and exploring was what we wanted to do. Couple of tips. On the main street, just off Rialto Bridge is a McDonalds which has free wifi. Along from there is a supermarket which was drinks and food much cheaper than anywhere else (we'd heard rumours of 20 euros for a coffee in St Marks which wouldn't surprise me and 10 euros for a drink of coke).
Other points to note.
Laundry -- there is a room with all facilities to do it yourself but it didn't seem that expensive to me, $2.20 for t-shirts I think so that was good. In before 9am and returned next day with same day service costing 50% more.
Phone / Internet access -- I am with the UK provider 3 who currently have an unlimited internet use deal within the EU for Â£5 a day. I used this a few times so didn't need the ships internet which is apparently expensive and incredibly slow. Regarding phone service, I found that we got a good signal probably 95% of the time with mostly 3G and occasionally GPRS service when 3G wasn't available.
TV -- We didn't really watch any TV other than to see the daily Wake Show which we found really useful. It's filmed onboard at 6am daily by the entertainment team and gives you a heads up on the places we are visiting that day and what's happening onboard the ship. 10/10 for this, I thought it was excellent.
Views - The outside Deck 7 was quiet and very pleasant to watch arrivals/departures and you can walk the entire ship at this level. 2.5 times round = 1 mile so we saw a few people using this to exercise.
For sail-aways we always went to the platform above the bridge. Not many people either knew about this or could find it. There is a secret door that leads out that isn't marked. To find it just go to the Lido deck and go all the way forward. You will see a door on either side. Go through those doors to another door that leads to a few steps leading to this deck. However, these doors are locked while at sea I believe.
There are some great views from the stern on different deck levels. Up on deck 18 was a club with a spectacular view looking aft. The primary (Lido) deck has the obligatory pools; hot tubs; bars; MUTS; and entrance into the buffets.
So in summary, we had a fantastic time and I think I can saw we are now cruise converts. I would most definitely recommend this cruise and princess and were now thinking about looking into another cruise for next year so any suggestions would be much appreciated!