My husband and I just returned from a 5-night cruise to the Bahamas and Grand Turk on the Ruby Princess. We are in our mid-sixties, and both retired. This was our 6th cruise, 3rd with Princess. The other 3 were with Celebrity.
Mostly we take longer cruises, and 5 nights was definitely too short. But last summer we got an offer we couldn't refuse, a balcony stateroom for the cost of an oceanview, so we grabbed it. And thank heavens we did--the winter here in Northeastern Ohio has been brutal and endless, so we needed a break.
Pre-cruise: We flew to FLL from CLE Sunday and stayed at the Sleep Inn in Dania Beach. We have stayed there before, and find it a very clean and comfortable hotel in a good location. They offer free shuttle to and from the airport, and shuttle to the port for $5.00 per person. There is a Mexican restaurant across the street which offers a 15% discount to hotel guests. If you don't care for Mexican, there are also an Italtan and a Japanese restaurants. There's a Walgreens across the parking lot, where we stopped Monday morning to stock up on Coke Zero and buy me some socks. The hotel also includes free continental breakfast.
Embarkation: We caught the 11:30 shuttle to the port,. By the time we checked our luggage, filled out our health forms, and got our sea passes, they were letting people board. My husband uses a cane, and the staff was extremely helpful, allowing us to bypass the long line and use the Elite/Suite passengers check in.
After posing for the Welcome Aboard photo, we were in our cabin by 12:30.
Cabin: We had a balcony cabin on Deck 11, Baja, midship starboard side. It was a very nice size for 2 people, although there was a drop-down bed in the ceiling which might make it crowded. The sitting area was smaller than a similar cabin on Celebrity, and there was much less drawer space, but it was adequate for a short cruise. And there is a HUGE walk-in closet, with a set of shelves. But the bathroom is the smallest I've ever seen. The stalls in the ladies' restrooms have more floor space. And there were only 3 tiny shelves for toiletries and drinking glasses. The shower had barely room to turn around. I don't know how a larger person would manage. The balcony was very nice, with 2 canvas chairs and a small table to hold your drinks and camera.
Food: We ate breakfast in the Horizon Court buttet every morning. There was a good selection of various types of food, mostly geared to US or British passengers, but there were some Hispanic and Asian dishes. I didn't find out until after breakfast the last day that they make yummy waffles out at the pizza station. I really like that the flatware and napkins are already set at the tables. They also come around serving coffee and orange juice, but you can get tomato juice and other types for free, and they'll also bring water. Service was hit-or-miss the first 2 mornings, but improved as the cruise went on.
For lunch, we ate in the DaVinci dining room once, where I found the selection disappointing and uninspiring. We ate at the Mast Grill once, and the burgers were excellent, and at the Pizza station once. Princess undoubtedly has the best pizza at sea. The other 3 days, we ate in the buffet. Again there was a good variety and the beverage service was much appreciated.
We chose anytime dining so we could eat either at the Michaelangelo or DaVinci dining room. We enjoy meeting other people and sharing experiences. We went to the Michaelangelo (deck 5) if we wanted to eat early. If we went to the early show, we would just stay on Deck 6 and go across to the DaVinci, which didn't open for anytime dining until 7:30. After hearing everyone complain about needing pagers, we only had one on the third night. Then we went out to the piazza and listened to the musicians for about 10-15 minutes, a reasonable time to wait. I think the fact that we were willing to sit with others made it easier for us to get seated promptly. Food ranged from good to excellent, but I had nothing to really make me go WOW until the last night. Then I had the chilled Granny Smith apple soup, which was wonderful. The really fun part was that they served it in a pina colada glass with a straw and an apple slice on the edge.
Because it was a short, port-intensive cruise, we didn't do much onboard. We went to the production shows, "Colors of the World" and "Broadway Ballroom." Both were fun, high-energy, well-performed and well-produced shows. We skipped the magician and comedian, and missed the Welcome Aboard show due to dinner running long. We saw only a few of the casual entertainers, and found them underwhelming.
Unusual for us, we never made it to the fitness center, let alone the spa.
We only encountered one serious glitch, which was eventually resolved. We signed up for EZcheck, where, for a fee, they will check you in with the airline and print your boarding passes. They also check your bags through from your stateroom to your final destination. The problem was, they delivered my husband's boarding pass and luggage tag on Thursday evening, but I didn't get mine. After 4 trips to guest relations, where we were repeatedly told not to worry, everything will be fine, I finally got mine at 3:30 Friday afternoon. They just couldn't seem to understand why we were worried. Well, maybe they are used to the process, but we aren't. Plus, our flight down was oversold, and people who checked in last, or not at all, got put on standby. We would have been much less concerned IF they had held his until mine was also available. Since our flight was at 5 pm Saturday and United doesn't let passengers check in prior to 24 hours in advance, we really didn't expect anything until dinnertime Friday.
I'm not going to comment much about the layout of the ship except to say I found the Lido deck confusing. We normally used the midshop elevators, which come out between the 2 swimming pools, and I could never keep it stratight which way to the buffet, grill, pizza, etc. Signage was less than helpful--arrows pointing up and down rather than left and right. I'm sure if the cruise had been longer, I would eventually have gotten myself oriented.
The staff was exceptional--everyone was polite, cheerful, helpful (except for the woman handling EZcheck).
Passengers: Age-wise, this was the widest range of passengers since our first cruise to Alaska. There were families with toddlers and school children on spring break, a large crowd of 20-30-somethings, and adults of all ages. (Note, we didn't encounter much drunkeness or other excessive behavior, but then again, we avoided the pool and didn't stay up past 11. Others may have a different perspective.) We were at the older end of the spectrum, although definitely not the oldest people on board.
From over 3300 passengers, 2/3 were Americans, 450 were Canadians, 50 were Chinese, and the rest were a mix of British, German, and 16 other countries.
Disembarkation: Since we had a late flight, we booked a shore excursion following disembarkation. Everyone with excursions met in the casino. After about half an hour wait, our group was called. Having just 2 carry-ons and one of us walking with a cane, we got through the handicapped line and had no problems. Then we boarded our bus and were off on our tour.
Ports/Excursions: We prefer to book through the ship and choose easy excursions due to my husband's mobiiity issues. We like to see the island highlights and get a taste of the history and culture. In Nassau, Grand Bahama Island, we took the "Forts, Ardastra Gardens, and Scenic City Drive." This took us to Fort Charlotte for a photo stop, and to the Ardastra Gardens, which is part zoo and part nature preserve. Seeing the flamingos march in formation was a sight not to be missed. A fascinating tour.
Since there was a long walk from the drop-off point to the ship, we decided to stay in town and browse through the shops. There was the usual mix of cheap souvenirs and high end jewelry stores. Then we caught the shuttle bus back to the ship and headed for pizza.
At Princess Cays, on the island of Eleuthera, we took the "Rock Sound, Tarpon (sic) Bay, Scenic Drive, and Lunch" tour. We stopped at an elementary school, where the 5th graders sang the national anthem and shared information about their country, The Bahamas. Other stops included a local church with shopping across the street; Ocean Hole, a "bottomless" pool which is somehow connected to the ocean; the town of Tarpum Bay to see the government offices; and lunch at a local bar/restaurant. We were served conch fritters, mac & cheese Bahaman style, honey barbeque wings, and pineapple muffins. There was also a demonstration of how to make conch salad and a Junkanoo performance with audience participation. The tour was very informative.
Outside the fence to the Princess Cays area, there is a local craft fair, and more shopping just inside the area. Not being beach people, DH headed for the shade while I browsed the shops.
Princess Cays is a tender port, and the seas were rather choppy, which made for an uncomfortable ride. Also, the tender lurched just as DH was getting ready to step back onto the ship, which wrenched his back. Nothing to spoil the trip--just a warning to others.
Grand Turk: Here we took the "Scenic Drive, Lighthouses, and National Museum." We drove past a replica of John Glenn's space capsule, which made splashdown offshore. We visited the National Musuem, which has artifacts from the Molasses Reef wreck, which may be Columbus's ship, The Pinta. We visited a couple churches and the historic lighthouse, which is located in a donkey sanctuary. The final stop was at a former salt house, now a museum and gift shop. If you're looking for unusual and authentic souvenirs, this is the place to go. I think this was my favorite tour.
Local carft are available in Cockburn Town of at the various tour stops. There is a large tourist shopping area at the port, again with high end gift and jewelry shops, along with the largest Margaritaville in the western hemisphere.
Ft. Lauderdale: We chose the "Intracoastal Waterway by Boat and Las Olas Boulevard with FLL transfer."
The intracoastal waterway tour was on a riverboat and was very enjoyable. Then we were taken to Las Olas Boulevard, Ft. Lauderdale's answer to Rodeo Drive, for time to shop or eat. We had lunch. Back on the bus for a ride along the waterfront, seeing all the spring breakers. Passengers going to FLL got dropped off first, then those who were returning to the ship, then those flying from Miami. It was a very enjoyable tour.
In retrospect, I wish we had chosen to make this cruise part of a B2B. We needed more sea days to appreciated this beautiful ship, and a longer respite from the endless winter we're experiencing in NE Ohio. I guess this just gives us an excuse to book another cruise on the Ruby Princess.