This was our ninth cruise and fourth on Princess. At our age (mid-seventies) we look for ease of travel, comfort and interesting itineraries as a priority. In preparation for this cruise we researched our options on many web sites. However, there is nothing like having a guardian angel also known as a travel agent to watch over you. Could we do all the bookings ourselves? Perhaps, but we believe in the principles of wing-walking: do not let go of a handgrip until you have a firm grip on the next one.
All cruises are nice some are just better than others. This one was very good keeping in mind that the difference between good, very good and excellent is very small. It is therefore little details that detract from perfection.
The Princess web site is very user friendly and provides a wealth of information. The only thing it lacks that affected us is the capability of booking specialty restaurants prior to sailing.
The usual consultation with our travel medicine clinic where we ensured that all our shots were up to date and we took Dukoral before departure. We believe that it is critically important to prevent disease rather than cure them later.
Booked Ottawa -- Fort Lauderdale and return with Air Canada that offers direct flights. Transfers (Princess)
Southbound we had booked a two-night stay at the Embassy Suites in FLL through Princess Cruise and Northbound we booked an excursion that ended at FLL. On arrive at FLL a Princess representative was waiting for us and their shuttle took us to the hotel. On sailing day Princess took us to the ship. There was a significant difference in baggage handling by Princess in FLL compared to what we had last year in LAX. In LAX they picked up your bags in your room and you next saw them on your bed in your ship stateroom = excellent. In FLL they picked up your bags relatively late then you had to check-out and re-identify your bags in the holding area. Finally your bags travelled to the ship with you which mean that they showed up much later outside your stateroom door on board. A small difference but that is the difference between excellent and just good. Princess Cruise per and post cruise accommodation/transfers are highly recommended.
Fort Lauderdale Hotel through Princess
We booked the Embassy Suites on 17th Street through Princess Cruises. The advantage of booking through them is that they meet you at the airport and provide all transfers including baggage handling. It becomes just too easy. The hotel is highly rated by Trip Advisor and met our expectations with an excellent suite on the 9th floor with a view on the port, great manager's cocktail hour if somewhat crowded as it is held in a relatively small bar area. The breakfast included with the room and first class including great omelettes made to order. One major drawback is that they do not have an in-room safe. You have to get a deposit box at reception. Amazing that in this day and age they do not have in-room safes! We had one dinner at the hotel itself which was quite acceptable, one at Outback restaurant next to the hotel (very good) and another one at the Irish pup across the street (neat place). We highly recommend the Sun Trolley that runs down 17th Street, along the beach all the way to the Galleria shopping mall for a $0.50 fee or $2.00 for a day pass! They stop at all bus stops and it is great fun. See www.suntrolley.com We also took the time to visit Bonnet House (www.bonnethouse.org) which is a museum and extensive gardens right in the heart of the beach area of Fort Lauderdale. We found it delightful and well worth a visit.
Overview -- A very nice cruise on a well managed ship. All cruises are good. Some are rated higher on the basis of minor differences. In the case of Ruby, we were entirely satisfied but at times it felt a bit cramped. Stateroom, public venues and dining rooms are all excellent. Nice itinerary, good shore excursions and a superb pre-cruise accommodation program. We would recommend Ruby Princess
Electronic bookings -- Excellent. The web site information is comprehensive and well organized. User friendly in just about every respect. It is not possible to book specialty dining venues before boarding thus it must be done soon after embarkation.
Princess Arrangements -- All our arrangements were handled perfectly including pre-cruise accommodation and shore excursions.
Embarkation -- From shuttle arrival at the cruise terminal to our stateroom was 30 minutes which is outstanding given that there are over three thousand passengers boarding. The only oddity is the baggage handling from the Princess accommodation to the ship. On Sapphire Princess last year the porters took our bags at the hotel and we next saw them on our bed in our stateroom. This year on Ruby the porters showed up late, we then had to check-in with the Princess agent at the hotel, re-identify our bags which we then loaded on our own shuttle bus to the ship. They appeared hours later at our stateroom door. Minor differences but that is what makes the difference.
Cabin/Stewart/Amenities -- All very good. The stateroom was a BB category with balcony. More room than enough for all our baggage/clothes. The only issue is with the small bathroom with a minute shower with curtain. Out of nine cruises this was the smallest shower yet. Anyone with any kind of mobility problem would be extremely challenged by this space. The bathroom amenities were all good except for the bathrobes offered. These have been washed to often that the label 'one size fits all' really does not apply. The robes in our cabins would have been adequate for a 13 year-old at best. Enough said. The bed was excellent with outstanding pillows. Our stateroom was always kept clean by the steward and our mini-fridge well stocked. Room stewards set the tone of the cruise. We had a very good steward who looked after us very well indeed.
We did have a noise issue. Our stateroom was on Riviera deck (14) with the Lido deck above with sun chairs and activities. We were only bothered at 5 am when the deck attendants start setting up all the deck chairs by dragging them and/or dropping them on the deck immediately above. My neighbour complained on day and they were quiet the next morning but it did not last. Recommendation: do not take a stateroom immediately above the Promenade deck or immediately below the Lido deck.
Restaurant/Food/Service -- We found the food in all venues to be well above the 'good' level. The traditional dining is our preference and we were extremely well served. The food selection and presentation was always first class and if anything did not sit well with you another dish would be immediately brought. We also had dinner at the Crown Grill where we rated them at 5 stars plus. We had the best rack of lamb that we have ever had and we eat a lot of lamb dishes. Here again, one improvement required at the Horizon Court. The coffee is weak and reminded me of hospital coffee. The coffee in all other venues is very good. The International Cafe is outstanding -- recommend buying a coffee card for that venue.
Public Facilities -- All public facilities we visited were perfect except that the Atrium is a bit confined. Future ships will have bigger atriums we are told. Good move. The pools were quite respectable but our favourite remains the Terrace Pool aft of the ship.
Itinerary -- Nice itinerary including two relaxing sea days. Princess Cays is well worth the visit. Great beach and a multitude of facilities. St. Maarten/St Martin is a nice island but very poor and not well kept with some exceptions. Of note, there were 6 cruise ships in St-Maarten that discharged some 14,000 passengers for a day! The dock got a bit crowded and the tour guides not very active. St. Thomas is a shopping stop then Grand Turk. We found Grand Turk just delightful. It is poor but very clean and friendly. There are superb beaches immediately next to the cruise terminal and one a short distance west of the terminal. All offer free access and a multitude of services. Here is a small item that makes a difference. In St. Maarten there were 6 ships at the terminal. On returning from our excursion we noted that NCL had a shaded area with soft chair and were offering their passengers cold towels and glasses of water. Celebrity was doing similarly but Princess had nothing. Just the security guy under and umbrella then get on board! Later in the day and at the next stop they offered cold towels only. Better but not what we expected... It is the little things that make a difference between good and great.
Shore Excursions -- All three that we took were interesting and well managed.
Disembarkation -- Two days before arriving at Fort Lauderdale instructions are issued for the disembarkation process along with baggage tags. The disembarkation process was well organized and the time between the meeting on board to the tour bus ashore was 40 minutes which included going through US customs. It is imperative that passengers read those instructions carefully. We had purchased a shore excursion in Fort Lauderdale that would take us to the airport. The first instructions and tags that we received had us meet on board at 10:10 for disembarkation but our excursion was leaving at 9:00. When I took that to the desk the agent took a while to understand the problem but gave us a new meeting time and place. Regrettably we then discovered that this was not for excursions but for people who were carrying their own baggage if the ship (not me at 73 yrs old!) So, back to the desk where I was issued a third set of baggage tags and a third meeting place. This one at 08:00 for shore excursion. All is well that ends well but the passenger remains the quality control person! The staff may smile a lot but they do not work for you; you have to look after yourself. Princess lost points on that one!
Transit through Fort Lauderdale -- No problems at all. Great shore excursion followed by the usual wait at the airport terminal.
Cost -- We believe that Ruby Princess including pre-cruise accommodation was very good value for money.
Recommendations -- Highly recommended after reading travellers' reports and consulting a knowledgeable travel agent