Introduction- My wife and I are avid travelers for our ages (26 and 35), including 8 previous cruises between the two of us. Our cruise experiences have ranged from economy (Carnival) to exclusive (Seaborne), and have also included Royal Caribbean, Costa and Celebrity. Our latest trip was an Eastern Caribbean itinerary aboard the Ruby Princess.
Embarkation- Upon arriving at Port Everglades about an hour before scheduled embarkation, there was already a significant queue. Once the process actually began, however, boarding was fairly smooth and efficient. If you can't stomach a bit of a wait, my suggestion is to book a suite or passage on a smaller ship. With a capacity of over 3000, Princess made the experience as painless as possible. As a pleasant surprise, luggage was delivered before the ship departed, a first in our cruising experiences.
Ship features and design- The Ruby Princess has a fairly clever layout that seems to make its size seem less imposing and minimizing the effects of such a high passenger count. Several smaller pools spread across the ship, for example, spread out sunbathers and ensure there are adequate access to both lounge chairs and on-deck amenities. Similarly, bars and lounges are spread throughout the ship and are generally smaller, more intimate affairs. One of the downsides to this design is that the ship is not symmetrical and traveling from bow to stern can require decidedly more navigational ability than on other vessels. Our balcony cabin was similar to what we have experienced on other lines in both size and amenities.The ship rode well in mild seas, although the gentle rolling experienced on many ships was replaced with a seemingly constant, although benign vibration. Be warned, aft cabins vibrate significantly during engine reversals, making for a nasty wake up call during early port visits.
Food and Beverage- Prior to cruising Princess, I did read several overly critical essays on the food quality. I will say to my fellows cruisers: if you want five star dining, eat at a restaurant with ten tables not 1,000. For a ship of its size, the cuisine aboard the Ruby was above average, especially in the main dining room. The lunch buffet was less impressive, but had an adequate variety. Dessert was the only element that seemed somewhat uninspired. Most of the bar venues aboard the Ruby Princess adopted and understated but elegant design. Unlike Celebrity, however, which opted for thematic bars specializing in specific drink types or experiences, all of the Ruby's bars were fairly straightforward affairs and offered very similar drink menus. To its credit, however, are the drink prices, which were extremely reasonable. Additionally, the bartenders, especially those in the Crooners bar, were extremely friendly and conversational. By day 2, they knew many passengers by name, a nice personal touch not often seen on such a large ship. Service in the dining room was very attentive and the room steward more available than on other lines.
Onboard experience- The demographic of this cruise was significantly younger than many of our previous voyages. There were fewer passengers at the extreme edges of the age spectrum (either young children or elderly), with more between their 20s and 50s. This made for a livelier crowd, although not so much as to be out of control or disruptive. Entertainment seemed to be similarly focused, with both music and shows with a decidedly more 'hip' vibe than on other lines. Our only real complaint was that dress codes were not readily enforced. My wife and I are younger, but formal night is one of the great cruising traditions that we would like to see more strictly adhered to. The Movie Under the Stars (MUTS) experience, a Princess staple, really shined during the NFL playoff games. Rather than squirreling sports fans into a dark corner (as we experienced onboard Celebrity), Princess presented the games on their giant TV system with full surround sound.
Other Ruby Princess passengers noted overly aggressive photographers and sales attendants. While they were certainly present, we found them no more intrusive than on other similarly priced lines. I would fault Princess for their a la carte approach to amenities, however. Want to sit under a palm tree in the adults only Sanctuary? That will be $20 a day. Spa access? Also fee based. Refreshing gelato? You guessed it. Mirroring my disdain for airline pricing schemes, I would rather see up front pricing for most amenities, even if that results in presentation of different service classes. Having to pay as you go for every little item certainly detracts from the holiday experience and creates a class based environment traditionally absent from modern cruising.
Disembarkation- Among the smoothest I've seen. We requested an early disembarkation to beat the rush and were allowed off the ship within 5 minutes of our assigned time. My only criticism would be a repeat with Port Everglades. Can we not arrange to have a significant supply of taxi cabs available when the ships disembark? The wait was nearly 45 minutes and seems unacceptable for such a routine event.
Overall, our Princess Cruise was above average for the price point. While I would not say that our cruise engendered any sort of exclusive brand loyalty, I would certainly cruise Princess again and recommend this particular ship.