This was our first cruise on Princess. We started cruising with Royal Carribean (RCL) and then switched to Celebrity. Neither offered a Med itinerary we wanted. This Princess cruise did so we decided to try them out. This was our 2nd Med cruise, the first being a 12 day trip from Barcelona, around France and Italy and back on RCL. That cruise was magnificent, and this cruise turned out to be magnificent.
We decided to come into Rome 2 days early, one day to unwind from the flight and the 2nd day to sightsee in Rome before heading to Civitaveccia and the ship. We booked the airfare thru Princess. The outbound flights were British Air (BA) from DC (Dulles) to Heathrow to Rome. The return flights were Air France (AF) from Venice to Paris to DC. Well, about 5PM (an hour before we were leaving for the airport) on the day of our outbound flight we get a call. BA tells us that our Dulles to Heathrow flight had been cancelled. My wife and I were not happy campers. British Airways would only offer us flights on another British Airways flight or a partner airline and could only get us a flight the next day from BWI to Chicago and then to Rome on American. Calls to Princess were very frustrating. We were not allowed to talk directly to the air travel department so we had to deal with questions to them thru a Princess ship rep. First Princess said a flight on another airline (United) had seats but BA would not book them. By the time we went back to Princess that flight was no longer available. We eventually had to settle for the American booking after several back and forths with Princess and BA. We never received a good explanation from BA about when they knew of the cancellation and why it occurred. Needless to say we lost one night lodging since we could not cancel. Also, because we did not make the lodging reservation thru Princess, our “Princess Platinum Protection Insurance” did not cover this. We lost our pre-booked tour of the Vatican Museum, and the tour company could not place us in a later tour that day since they were sold out. However our plane arrived on time at 9:30AM and we made it to a 2PM Tour of the Catacombs that was substituted at no extra cost. It wasn’t our first choice, but we enjoyed it.
The cost of hotel rooms in Rome is outrageous. We ended up booking a bed and breakfast room with Altos B&B thru The Beehive Cross Pollinate web site (www.cross-pollinate.com). This has a large number of small B&B establishments that offer rooms at reasonable prices. This is a great service and is well run by the owners of the Beehive Hotel and Café. I would highly recommend using this site to book reasonably priced rooms in Rome. The Altos B&B is run by a very nice Italian lady, Gabriella. She does not speak much English, and we know very little Italian. However, we managed very well. This B&B is on a side street only 3 blocks from Roma Termini Rail Station. We had a single room with attached bathroom. It was nothing fancy but it was very clean, comfortable and was a reasonable price. It was located on the 4th floor of a building. You did have to lug your luggage up one flight of stairs, take a small elevator to the 4th floor and then go up another set of stairs. The breakfast part was a ticket to a small cafe across the street that allowed you to have a cappuccino and a croissant which were very good.
We took the Leonardo Express from the airport to Roma Termini. This is an excellent way to get into Rome and we would do this again.
So our one day in Rome was really hectic. Take an overnight flight and the airplane lands in Rome at 9:30AM. Take the train to Rome, check into the B&B and leave the B&B about 11:30AM. Walk around some and have a pizza slice for lunch before the 2PM Catacomb Tour. This Tour was good and our tour guide was great. The tour is run by Dark Rome Tours (www.darkrome.com). We highly recommend them. After the tour ends, walk some more and see The Spanish Steps, The Pantheon, have dinner near Piazza Navonna and then take a bus back to Roma Termini. Then the short walk to the B&B by 9:00PM and crash for the night.
We had booked a 12:10PM train from Rome to Civitaveccia the next day. We booked the Freccia Bianca since it was a direct train with no stops. The train ride was great, about 40 minutes. Met some other people going on the cruise and enjoyed talking with them. The only issue was getting off the train to the ship. We had to carry our luggage down a set of stairs, take a tunnel under the tracks, get the luggage back up another set of stairs and then walk about a quarter mile to the bus that takes you to the ship. It was tiring for our old bones. Our paperwork stated our embarkation time was supposed to be 3PM. It was now about 1:30PM. Instead of waiting for 1 ½ hours, we joined the short check in line and were on the ship in about 10 minutes. It was a breeze.
This was our first time on Ruby, and we did like everything about the ship. It is every bit as nice as the Celebrity and RCL ships we have been on. We had an inside cabin on deck 12. We had plenty of room in the cabin to move around and store our luggage. There was a mix up in the bed arrangement. We had originally asked for the beds to be together but made a change in our booking to separate the beds. When we arrived the beds were together. The bunk beds above made it a bit difficult to get to the night stands or even just stand next to the bed without hitting our heads. We tried that arrangement the first night but had it switched by night 2. It also helped because my wife does not like me waking her when I get up at 6AM! Our cabin steward, Joey, was good. He had quite a memory as he met us once and then addressed us by our names every time we saw him from then on. He did an excellent job of keeping the cabin clean and the beds made as well as placing a bucket of ice for us to use every evening in the frig.
This was the first ship we have been on that had laundry and ironing facilities available to the passengers. While we did not use the laundry, my wife made good use of the ironing facility and really liked that this was available.
We had the 5:30PM seating in the DaVinci Dining Room. We would have preferred the seating to be at 6:00PM. We did not want the late seating as it was too late for us. The freestyle we did not want because we enjoy having the same waiter and dinner companions. We suspect that with the freestyle diners being able to come to the DaVinci starting at 7:00PM, Princess figured the 5:30PM start was needed to accommodate them. We sat at a table for 8 but there were only 6 of us. What a great time we had at dinner with our table mates: Sheila, Sonia, Jan and Perry. We discussed many different topics and told each other about our days at each stop. Sheila and Sonia joined us a few times for the after dinner shows. Arsenio was our waiter, and Lovely was his assistant. Arsenio was great. Very efficient in making sure the dinner went smoothly. His recommendations and explanations of the food were good. At the end of the meal, he would take our dessert orders and then bring an extra dessert we did not order for us to share and try out. Lovely was also good but unfortunately jammed her wrist and had to be reassigned about halfway thru the cruise. We understand that she had to be let off the ship at the end of the cruise and sent home to recover. We hope Princess takes her back when she has recuperated as we considered her an asset to the ship. Her replacement was also good. We did eat one night at the Crown Grill which was a highlight. An excellent meal and Herman, our waiter, was great.
As to the Formal Nights, this was the first cruise my wife and I (mostly me) “opted to not add the formal wear to the limited luggage alottments!” With the cost of the cruise and air fare, the cost of adding another piece of luggage and then get hit with a $50 air charge on each leg of the trip, we could not justify this cost ($200.). We ate in the Crown Grill the first formal night and were going to eat in the Horizon Court buffet the 2nd formal night. However, our table mates did not care that I did not have a coat and tie and convinced us to come the second night. Although it wasn’t the way my wife would have dressed if she had planned on going formal, she was prepared. I did feel somewhat out of place but had a nice pair of dress pants and shirt on. I have no regrets in doing this as our table mates wanted us with them. I am not sure why anyone seated at any other table should care.
As to the ships food, I really wonder what kind of food people eat on a daily basis that they could whine about the quality of food served on this ship. We found the food in all the venues (and we tried every venue except Sabatinos and many food items) to be really good. Yes, there were a couple of misses, but all in all we liked the food and think the chefs are to be commended. The dining room menu had a set of classic foods available on the left side every night and new items on the right side. There were not a lot of food choices with sauces, but I thought the choices were diverse enough that on many nights there were 2 or 3 main dishes that I would have liked to have tried. If you did not like what you ordered, Arsenio was more than happy to bring a substitute dish very quickly. Outside of the main dining there were options galore.
One of our favorite food excursions was afternoon tea in the DaVinci Dining Room. We enjoyed tea, scones with cream and jelly (This seemed to be the favorite of most people), small sandwiches and small desserts served by the white gloved staff. We managed to make it to this 4 or 5 days from 3:30PM to 4:30PM. It was popular with men joining their wives as well. Needless to say, we had to limit our intake here as we had to save room for dinner at 5:30PM ?. It was especially nice on days when we skipped lunch while out on an excursion. Best of all, this was at no charge. Celebrity does offer a “High Tea” experience which my wife and a friend enjoyed. She thought it did warrant the additional charge (live music, etc) though.
One day lunch was available in the Wheelhouse Bar. Fish and chips, shrimp and chips and Scottish eggs were 3 of the dishes available that we remember. We had the fish and chips which were excellent, and since we had never had Scottish eggs, we had to try them. This was a hardboiled egg whose shell was peeled, surrounded by a ground beef layer about ¼ inch thick and then deep fried. It was good and we were stuffed after finishing with a delicious ice cream topped with cherries. Again, the waiters were all eager to serve and did a wonderful job.
The International Café was open 24 hours and had a variety of salads, sandwiches and desserts available at no extra cost. There were always one or two desserts we liked and ate. If you wanted gelato it was a $1.50 charge for 3 scoops.
Horizon Court and the attached Café Caribe were open from 6:00AM to Midnight for breakfast, lunch, dinner and a late night snack. Good food and a good variety. No one should have ever complained about not being able to find something to eat. We also never had difficulty finding a seat as waiters were always available to take our plates and find one for us. They would also promptly bring us a beverage of our choice.
They had a pizza and ice cream bar open from about 11:00AM till I think 11:00PM. The ice cream was good. The pizza wasn’t the best we have tasted, but it was the best we have had on a cruise ship and acceptable. There was always plain cheese pizza along with a pizza with toppings that varied.
I thought the Fitness Center was the best one I have seen on any cruise ship. It had a variety of weight training machines, exercise bikes and tread mills. It has the RCL and Celebrity ships beat by a mile. Needless to say I did not visit there nearly enough as I gained 7 Lbs. ?.
We did not watch “Movies Under The Stars” because we were too beat from touring all day. The ship staff would set up lawn chairs and blankets on the deck. All you could eat popcorn was available for the movie goers pleasure (or for anyone that walked by the pop corn machine). We did manage to catch 2 movies, Lincoln and Les Miserables, in the Princess Theater on the sea day’s afternoon. We were impressed with the number of first run movies that they offered on the cruise. The movies were also available in the TV in your room.
Speaking of the Princess Theater, we enjoyed the evening entertainment, some more than others. Dan Styne the Cruise Director was very entertaining and funny. The 2 production shows were good, especially the Once Upon A Dream show the next to last night of the cruise. It was excellent. The two comedians Doug Funk and Tom Briscoe were entertaining but not great. Siobhan Phillips, a comedian and singer, was a good singer but so so on the comedy. Vincenzo Gentile gave a great violin performance. The Chapman Brothers brought down the house with their high energy song and dance routines. They were great. Also, the Venetian Chamber Orchestra was very entertaining on the last night.
In the Crooners Bar, Arnie G was available most nights to listen to, and we enjoyed him. He even brought the audience into his act with a sing along. The Piazza had a number of live shows each day. The Fiesta String Quartet was 4 very talented ladies who played nightly. Maria Margiveva was a double jointed lady that made us cringe at some of the contortions she could place her body into.
Gatsbys Casino entertained me a number of nights as I watched (did not partake for once) people win and lose at roulette, poker, blackjack and craps.
As I stated previously, we chose this cruise due to the ports that were visited, and they did not disappoint. We liked having only 2 sea days. The bad thing about the sea days was that the first was after the first port stop in Naples, and the 2nd was before the last port, Venice. Seven ports in a row made for some weary bones, but it was worth it to see the sights we did. We would do it again. Our synopsis of the ports follows.
Naples: On our previous Med cruise we had taken a ship’s tour of the Amalfi Coast and Pompeii. This time, we pre-booked a customized private tour with Worldtours. We wanted to see Ravello, Positano and Sorrento, a difficult task in only 8 hours given the travel time involved between each of the towns and the distance to and from Naples. We settled on stops in Ravello and Sorrento and only a brief picture taking stop above Positano. Antonio Belardo was our guide and driver (of a comfy Mercedes). Antonio was waiting for us at 8AM and got us back to the ship at 4PM as requested. He not only drove us but gave us background information on the region and answered all of the questions we had. He truly wanted to make the day what we hoped for. He drove the back way up the mountains and their winding roads and dropped us off in Ravello first. One nice part of arriving early was that there were very few tourists. We visited the gardens in Villa Rufolo and Villa Cimbrone. The gardens were fantastic, and the views of the Amalfi Coast were just stunning. We also had some time to briefly walk thru a small part of the town of Ravello. After leisurely driving down the Amalfi Coast, enjoying it’s stunning beauty, and capturing some photos around Positano, it was off to Sorrento for an hour and a half of shopping and site seeing in this wonderful city. The trip was fantastic, the value received for the price of this tour was excellent, and we would book with Worldtours again should we ever return. Antonio made the day extraordinary.
Santorini: We did the ship’s tour here and are glad we did. The weather was perfect. The tender from ship to shore was great. Our guide, Vaso, was good. It was sometimes difficult understanding her English (with her grammar and Greek accent), but it was not too bad. We visited Oia first. It was crowded!!! There were only 2 cruise ships anchored, and I cannot imagine how crowded it must be when there are up to 9 cruise ships at one time (as our guide told us is often the case). We visited the Kamari Black Sand Beach, the Panagia Church and had lunch at Pyrgos Restaurant. The lunch was good but nothing exciting. We were disappointed that they did not offer Baklava for dessert ?. In the afternoon we enjoyed spectacular views of the island from the Mt Of Prophet Elijah and while we sampled wine at the Santos Winery. We ended our pleasant excursion at Fira where we shopped for a short time. Then we joined the very long line for the cable car back down to the port and the tender to the ship.
Kusadasi: Under sunny skies, we went on a private tour with 10 other shipmates to see Ephesus, the Temple of Artimis and the Basilica of St John (arranged by one of our shipmates). Our thanks go out to her. The first stop at the Temple of Artimis was disappointing as there was basically nothing there but a few stones left from the temple and a couple of signs explaining and showing the temple as it would have appeared. Ephesus is just spectacular although it was very, very crowded. The site is huge and requires a lot of walking over uneven surfaces. Be sure to get tickets to see inside the Terrance Houses that are being restored. We had an interesting lunch of Turkish food at a small road side location. We then visited the Basilica of St John. This is the ruins of a Basilica where St John is buried. They have not been restored. We enjoyed the tour thoroughly and would recommend the No Frills Tour Company and our guide Kenan Seber.
Mykonos: We decided to do this one on our own. We took the ship’s bus into Mykonos Town (Hora) and walked and shopped and took lots of pictures. We got to see Petros, the pelican, not once but twice, and we had chicken souvlaka and baklava (yummy!) for lunch. It was fun just wandering and taking in the sites of the town. It was very windy out and hazy but no rain.
Piraeus (Athens): We took a 6 hour tour arranged by one of our shipmates with the Piraeus Express. This company operates in Athens as Piraeus Express and Katakalon as Katakalon Express. There were actually two busloads of our shipmates on the tour. The owner, Stephen Todd, was the (shall we say) Tour Director in our bus. In Greece he is not a licensed guide and cannot accompany us outside the bus as a tour guide. He did all his talking inside the bus and was excellent. We visited Panathiniako Stadium (Site of the 1896 Olympics). Our next stop was the Greek Parliament Building where we witnessed the Changing of the Guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Next was the Temple of Zeus and Hadrians Gate followed by the long trek up to the top of the Acropolis. We finished up with a walk, lunch and shopping in the Plaka before returning to Piraeus and the ship. It was a great day and once again great weather.
Katakolon. Again 2 bus loads of shipmates signed on with the Katakolon Express for a 4 hour tour out to the Ancient Olympia archeological site. Once again we had Stephen as our Tour Director, and he gave a good informative and educational commentary on Ancient Olympia during the bus ride. Although the Ancient Olympia site was interesting to see, especially the museum, not having someone with you to explain the ruins in more depth made this walk a tad boring but there were plenty of Kodak moments available. After the visit to the historical site, there was a brief stop in Olympia for some shopping. One bus load went from here back to the ship. Our group was taken by the tour company to a stop at a restaurant to take in gorgeous views overlooking the sea and have a drink of local wine, beer or soda. Then we could either be taken back to the ship or dropped off in Katakolon (which we did) for some more shopping. Katakolon was basically a quaint street on the sea that had a number of shops and restaurants within walking distance of the ship.
Corfu: We previously visited this island on our last Med cruise and took a ship’s tour of the main sites of the island. We decided to take the ship’s bus and walk Corfu town on our own. My wife had a great time shopping, and I had a great time taking pictures of the many streets and the two forts. We found a small bakery here and had some excellent baklava ?. We received a detailed map of Corfu Town on the bus with all the streets labeled in English. This would have been perfect, but all of the street signs were in Greek! It was easy to get lost, and we did ? . All in all it was a great day again with perfect weather.
Dubrovnik: We previously visited this city also on our last Med cruise on a ship’s tour. Unfortunately, all of our pictures were lost due to my camera getting stolen in Barcelona. So we took the ship’s bus into town to tour on our own. We exchanged some Euros for Kunas and took the Cable Car up to the top of the hill above the walled city. What a spectacular view on another picture perfect day. Well worth the 94 Kunas each. Next we went back down and walked the wall (there went 90 Kunas each and 15 Kunas for some water). Very tiring but spectacular, and a lot of Kodak moments were had. We finished up with some shopping to spend the last 48 Kunas on some sea salt (supposedly some of the best in the world) for cooking before it was back to the ship. My wife rested up, and I walked around the port before dinner.
Venice: A windy, cloudy grey overcast greeted us as we sailed into Venice. By the time the ship docked, the clouds were dissipating, and we had another great day for site seeing. There was an automatic $15 cost tacked onto our accounts for the water taxi ticket to near St Marks Square that was not appreciated by many passengers. If you did not want to use this, you had to return the ticket by a certain time in order to get reimbursed. We thought the price was a bit high, but knowing where the ship was docked compared to St Marks Square, it was the easiest way to get there. We had been to Venice before so we opted once again to tour on our own. Five hours of walking Venice’s fabulous sights (EX: St Mark’s Square, The Rialto Bridge, and the quaint streets of San Marco, San Polo & Dorsoduro) made us glad to get into the water taxi and get back to the ship.
Leaving the following day for the airport, we made one excellent decision the night before. We had arranged to use the ship’s bus to the airport and were scheduled to leave at 10:15AM for a 12:45PM flight. One of the couples we had met during the cruise was on the same bus for the same flight, and they wanted to get to the airport sooner. We followed their lead and changed to a 9:30AM bus, and we were glad we did! As soon as we arrived at the airport, the deluge hit. It started pouring and did not let up. We can sympathize with The Bun Mom. That could have been us standing in the pouring rain waiting for the bus. As it was, we have never seen such a chaotic check in as we witnessed in Marco Polo Airport. The airport check in area is small for the amount of people, and there were lines of people going every which way. We thought at one time some fights would break out. We never want to fly out of Venice again.
We have to give Kudos to Air France. Great flights, complimentary wine and great food served on the flight from Venice to Paris as well as the flight from Paris to DC. We were even in the cattle car cabins.
Overall: A GREAT BIG THANKS to all of the people that built and maintained the web site for this cruise and that arranged for the private tours that we had the option to take (and did take in 3 ports). All the information that was available there about every aspect of the cruise made it easy to plan your day and know what to expect at each port. Two huge thumbs DOWN to British Airways for screwing up the beginning but two huge thumbs UP to the Ruby Princess and all of her crew and officers as well as to Air France for making this vacation special. If the itinerary and price are right, we would have no issue with sailing