Would we do it again? Absolutely without hesitation, YES!! All the nightmares we had heard about Christmas cruising proved completely false for us. In fact, it was a dream come true.
This was our third Princess cruise of 2012, so we have recent experience with which to compare this cruise. As well, it was a first cruise for 6 of our 14 family travelling companions -- so it was especially wonderful to view cruising thru their eyes.
We arrived at 11:30 at Port Everglades to the longest line-up I had ever seen. Though we are elite, I wasn't about to abandon my family, so waited with them. The line-up literally flew. We were whisked thru security -- and into the next line before we knew it. Curiously enough, although there were 5 staterooms between the 14 of us, the Princess staff insisted that all 14 of us go up to the check--in lady in ONE group. That seemed like a recipe for disaster but it actually went surprisingly well. Elites and Platinum began boarding around 12, then group 1 and then us in group 2. For the size of the line-up when we arrived it seemed like the first Christmas miracle had occurred and we were on the ship in record time!
The carolers were in the piazza and the snow machine was 'snowing'. Now, we've come a very long way to get AWAY from snow, but it was pretty anyway. The piazza was decorated beautifully -- very impressive for us all. The Horizon court was next stop -- but oh the line ups! I'm used to being the first to board and therefore arriving at HC early so this was a throw-back to the old days before I was elite! Oh well, we managed to find a couple tables back in Caribe cafe which is always the secret to finding more space. The welcome aboard luncheon featured all the usuals -- I had wondered if it might be different for the holidays? Nonetheless I was happy to load up on my favorite scallops ?.
Next stop was registering my nieces and nephews (ages 7,9,11,13) for the kids club -- at which point we found out there were 950 kids (under 18) on the ship. Oh my! I want to stress at this time that we personally never saw them. Kudos to Princess' staff for keeping these 950 very busy because at no time did we ever, ever have a moments bother by any child. In fact, at the risk of evoking wrath, I'll say that I have been far more annoyed by the behavior of grown-ups barging onto elevators, pushing their way into buffets, ramming me with their scooters and walkers, talking out loud in shows, and treating staff/crew like dirt. These children and teens were amazing. All with smiles on, having the time of their life. My own children (19,20, 23,23), though not exactly children and obviously not included in the 950 count, also had an amazing time. Princess arranged for 18-20 meet/greet events for the first few days after which they were now introduced and planned their own events. My 20 year old won the Pop Star Karaoke event which was a lot of fun as well.
Entertainment: The productions shows are simply amazing. I admit to being a little tired of the shows on other ships. This was our first time on Ruby so maybe that's why we were so impressed but more than that, we were blown away. Once Upon a Dream is spectacular beyond words. DON'T miss it. Stardust also is great. There was a special Christmas show as well -- we could scarce imagine the work that went into that -- just for Christmas. The variety type shows mostly had a night in the Princess theatre and then the next night in the Explorers Lounge. I love that format. (Also love the three shows a night format). Comedian Glenn Hirsch was great both times. His show is clean -- very family friendly -- proving you don't have to swear to get laughs. David Cat's illusionist show was amazing and he was voted one of the top entertainers of last year. I, however, had a hard time getting past his off-putting slide show the first night that had a spoof about Jesus in it. It seemed very untimely to me and I didn't get the point at all.
There was more musical entertainment than I have ever seen on any ship. It was practically non-stop. In October we did a Canada/New England Cruise and honestly my husband was about ready to start playing that big white grand piano himself. There was NO music happening at all -- anywhere! If this plethora of musical entertainment is the doings of Ron Goodman the cruise director then I have to say he is the best CD ever. If Princess is trying to impress all those first time Christmas Cruisers, then I'd say they succeeded but it will be a hard act to follow. Usually we have a couple things circled in the Patter we'd like to see/do. This time, the Patter was one big circle! We didn't even get to some of the venues we usually frequent like the Wheelhouse. One highlight was a backstage tour of the Princess Theatre. They explained all of the high-tech workings and let us see all of the props, costumes, dressing room, etc. One of the performers named Cas stayed extra with us at the end to explain more things and to answer all of our questions!
At this point I'll insert a little negative point I had. Sailaway from Fort Lauderdale was lovely. It was a beautiful sunny day, barely a cloud in the sky. There were quite a number of other ships in port to enjoy viewing as well. The band was playing beautifully. Everyone was enjoying a beverage and dancing around the decks. And then it all came to a crashing halt with the horrid screachingly loud microphone that would not stop. On and on it went for an hour ruining the rest of sailaway. It was deputy cruise director Ryan doing the draws for everything from a free muffin to a free bingo card. Honestly, do they really have to do that then? From that point on I couldn't abide the sound of Ryan's voice. I know he has his fans but I'm not one of them. Perhaps he was just doing his job but really...
On to better things like... Food: We had 5:30 fixed dining. This was way too early. Although we had booked this cruise last February, 6:00 dining time was already fully booked and 8:30 was too late being there were little children in our group. I didn't want to risk anytime dining for a large group. We made 5:30 work. Service with Iryena and Aleksandra was exceptional -- they were fabulous with the children who would much rather have stayed all day at the kids club than eat! Their parents insisted that they learn to dine, but let them go after the main course. Iryena would bring them their meals pronto. Jelena at the door of Michelangelo was most accommodating to our large group and always made us feel so welcome!
We adore the International Cafe and eat most lunches and snacks there, always have a coffee card and enjoy the ambiance of the Piazza a lot. This time was no exception.
We felt the Horizon Court was a little step up on this ship. It seemed there was much more variety than on Emerald. I don't understand for the life of me why the waffles are way out around by the pool. By the time you get them back to the Horizon Court and get your other food they are stone cold.
There was a fabulous kitchen cooking show in the Princess Theatre one day -- hosted by Ron Goodman and featuring the Maitre d' and the head chef. It was hilarious -- they made four or five dishes for us to see, which was followed by a song and dance by some of the kitchen staff. Then there was a brief kitchen tour. However the show was so well attended (the Princess theatre was pretty well packed) that the tour took forever just to have a short walk thru the kitchen. The kitchen tour you get on the chef's table dinner is far more extensive.
This cruise was to celebrate my parents 50th anniversary -- and thus we went to Crown Grill one night. It was truly spectacular. Chito and his helper gave us amazing service. Unfortunately I waited until the morning of day three to reserve so we could only get a booking for day 6 at 9 pm. There were so many family groups on the cruise doing exactly what we were doing that the restaurant was booked solid the whole cruise. Plan ahead! The $25 cover charge is a small price to pay for excellence and you can still eat all you want if that appeals to you! I had the Lobster cake, Black and Blue onion soup, 6 oz Filet and lemon meringue pie. It was all so perfect, I'd have a hard time not ordering the exact same thing another time. My oldest son ordered the 22oz. Porterhouse steak for his main course. As a waiter at a local high end steakhouse, he said it was the best steak he's ever had!
My children had the Ultimate Kids Beverage Card which they made good use of. My husband thought he'd try it this time instead of just getting the soda card (He's a big diet coke drinker) but for the most part I don't think he actually thought to use it for anything other than diet coke! Most of the ultimate drinks are so calorie laden that he thought twice about ordering them anyway.
Christmas activities: Beyond the decorations, snow, carolers, and the Christmas Production Show which I've mentioned, there were many other Christmas touches: Gingerbread house decorating contest, Christmas menu items including gingerbread souffle, stolen all week, turkey dinner of course, Ron Goodman read the Night Before Christmas to the children in the Piazza, Santa came and brought every child a lovely wrapped Princess bear, many staff sang beautifully to us in the Piazza (with Princess Carols hand-outs for all guests to sing-along), Carols played over the speakers (but I noticed they did stop on Dec 26 which was fine), the photo set-ups had Christmassy back-drops to choose from. I may be forgetting some things, but I will say that we didn't for a moment feel like we had missed out on Christmas!
Service and Staff: With one or two minor exceptions, the staff were amazing. Here they were, away from home at Christmas, making it all wonderful for us. We always heard the 'hello' when passing staff in the hallways. We did find service a little sketchy in the Horizon Court. I don't understand why they don't have a soda machine right there for staff to get passengers soda. They push and push the soda card sales at the beginning of the cruise but when you actually want soda in the Horizon Court you seldom get it until you're finished your meal.
Ports: I love Princess Cays. It is clean and safe and has always been a good beach day for me. That's my opinion. For those of you who wish to stay on the ship by all means do!! That's exactly how I now feel about Grand Turk. I did not like that port at all. Unfortunately we arrived several hours after the Carnival ship whose passengers had hogged every single lounger with their towels, but there were very few of them actually on the loungers. Very, very maddening. I admit to saying a few unkind words about Carnival people under my breath (sorry Carnival people). We finally found a little plot of sand that we could put our towels on. If it had not been so sunny we could have just sat near the water but it was so hot you couldn't sit out in the unprotected sun for long -- consequently you needed a spot where the loungers were. The loungers are partly covered in a lovely coconut grove. This would all be great if ONE ship is in port. Otherwise you can sit around the big pool but the noise/music is blaring and all the Margarittaville people are drinking... you get the idea. My kids had booked the Flowrider surf machine which they loved. However, when it was their time to go on it, we moved to the pool area to watch them and 12 loungers away from us was a Carnival passenger puking his guts out on the deck -- NO I am not kidding. In my opinion, the Margaritaville staff should have helped him back to the ship but no, they left him to keep upchucking while his girlfriend yelled at him. It was awful. Someone said he'd been like that for an hour. Finally a staff person came and poured a bottle of water on the pile of grossness. Great solution. I tried to concentrate on the flowrider but with the circus going on near me it was difficult. So that's my Grand Turk memory.
St Thomas: We went to Coki Beach with Godfrey's Tours (have used him a number of times) after shopping for an hour. Coki was great -- clean, lots of fish. Rented loungers, unbrella, snorkels, fins all for $5 each.
St. Maarten: We went on Bernard's Island Tour to Maho Beach, Market in Marigot and Orient Beach. We had about 1 Â½ hrs at Maho which is really interesting to watch the planes come and go, then about 45 min at the market and an hour at Orient. With all the driving time though it makes a really full day and another time I wouldn't recommend tackling all that. All we really had time for at Orient was lunch which is priced in euros. If you have cash they do it 1 to 1 ratio. Have cash. It was about $70 for four of us to have tuna melts and a drink. Good and tasty but expensive!
Disembarkation was fairly smooth. We had arranged for a private pick up at 9 am so had 8:20 disembarkation tags. They were running behind in calling colors, so we just walked off anyway. Undoubtedly that is not the proper thing to do but we weren't about to be proper and risk missing our flight. Our international flight from Fort Lauderdale was at 11:30 and we did make it in loads of time. However the Fort Lauderdale airport was extremely busy and I wouldn't suggest booking a flight any earlier at this busy time of year. By the time we checked in with United and then cleared security we only had a half hour to spare.
Summary: Yes, yes, we would cruise at Christmas again. We would cruise on Ruby again and we will cruise Princess again. There is no better way to see the world and to travel with family.