On December 5 we flew from the West Coast to Ft. Lauderdale via Dallas. We stayed the night at the Holiday Inn Express on the 17th Street Causeway. Cost with coupon was $118 but next November noticed it is $208. Although the hotel has a shuttle from the airport, when we called (note that you can't contact this hotel from the phones at the airport baggage claim area) we were told the next shuttle was already full and to take a taxi and we would be reimbursed. Another couple was staying at the same hotel, so we piled into a taxi. Check-in was smooth and the room nice except for the noisy fan on the air conditioner that we needed to have on all night. A nice breakfast was available in the morning, with hot and cold items including rolls, toast, biscuits and gravy, cheese omelettes, fruit, yogurt, juice, cereal, and coffee. When checking in, we discovered the hotel had a shuttle to the port for $15 each but elected to take a taxi, which was $12 including tip. In the morning we found there were a lot of people in the hotel also going on cruises, so the elevator was very slow as people and their luggage moved out. In the morning I walked east onto the causeway bridge and saw the new Ruby Princess waiting - a nice sight! The hotel is across from a small shopping mall with a Dollar Tree, a nearby liquor store, and several restaurants. To the west there is another shopping area with a Publix grocery store, Total Wine, and Payless Shoes. Total Wine is a HUGE wine and liquor store; we stocked up there on bottled water and wine.
We arrived at the port about 11 a.m. and was sure to tip the porter who took our luggage from the taxi. Going inside, we were given a number (4) for our group. After about a half hour, our number was called and we checked in. We were on the ship right a noon. From reading postings on Cruise Critic we expected one of the dining rooms to be open for lunch, but none were, so after going to our cabin we went to the Horizon/Caribe buffet. Two of our three bags arrived at our cabin when we were at the 4 p.m. muster drill; the last arrived about an hour later.
We were very pleased with our aft cabin except for the low water pressure in the bathroom sink (couldn't rinse off a toothbrush or razor very well), high level of chorine in the water, and creaking walls, probably unique to aft cabins and being a new ship. I was wary of taking an aft cabin but it was among the few balcony cabins available when we booked the cruise in February. I did quite a bit of research, finding that some aft cabins in the middle are by a vent exhaust and some have large beams on the balcony. Our balcony had four chairs (two could be reclined a bit) and a very small table. There often was the smell of food, likely from the vent. It was spooky looking straight down to the water and wake; the latter was fairly loud when we were moving but ended up being white noise. The balcony was fully covered and very private - only by looking around the partitions could any of our neighbors see into our balcony. We were very disappointed that we could not get the balcony breakfast in our cabin; why some but not others? Our steward was great. He brought us bathrobes on request and even suggested that we could avoid corkage in the dining rooms by bringing us glasses and us opening up the bottle in our room before going to dinner. We did that on our last night, but don't expect a wine bucket or the waiter to fill your glasses. We saw him more than we saw any steward on past cruises, and he always had our cabin made up when we returned. As with other cruises on Princess, the cabin refrigerator doesn't cool very well or consistently. We tried to keep the door open to help air circulate, but our steward always closed it when we were out. On Thursday night when the waves were highest, our cabin creaked every few seconds; earplugs and shoving pieces of paper between the wall and ceiling by the bed and closet to eliminate the creaks didn't help. And we had very noisy neighbors whom we heard (conversations and television) through the cabin walls and on the balcony. The noise seemed to go through our bed; even earplugs didn't help. They always slammed the cabin and balcony doors. And they smoked, so we had to close our balcony door whenever they were out on their balcony. We often smelled cigarette smoke in the hallways, and one day an entire hallway reeked of cigar smoke. Something needs to be done about this - make decks smoking/nonsmoking so passengers can enjoy their rooms and balconies without breathing smoke. When in our cabin we often missed announcements of the PA system because they go out only in the hallways and on a certain television channel and you have to open your door to hear what is being said. It would be nice if announcements were repeated with visuals that remained on a television channel.
It was great being on a new ship; this was just the fifth cruise for the Ruby, though we were surprised to already see rust on the hull through paint. Once we got on the ship and had lunch we tried to find a hot tub, but only one by the pool was open. What's the reason for this?! We liked the atrium's new features, Vines and the International Cafe, though with all the other food and beverage options additional ones aren't really needed. One evening before dinner we had a glass of wine at Vines. I thought my $11 grand cru Chablis was a bit corked and my wife agreed, but I said nothing as the waiters didn't speak the best English and might not have understood. We were told prosciuto and raclette were served with the wine, but because we don't eat meat we declined the ham and because it was a formal night the raclette was not served (something to do with part of it being "strong" in flavor). We love cheese, so we were disappointed not to have that and thought it was unfair that some things were available at some times and not at others, even when paying over $20 for two glasses of wine. We did each have three pieces from the seafood/sushi bar, for $1 a piece, which was reasonable. We couldn't quite figure out the International Cafe; some things such as the chocolate fondue and bags of cookies carry a charge that is posted, while others such as single cookies are free. The display case has some savory items (lamb chops, shrimp, tomato/mozzarella skewers) in addition to full cakes and other desserts. I think better communication on this feature is sorely needed, as few passengers seemed to venture near it; either charge for everything or offer it all gratis. I used the Internet Cafe once. It has different plans starting at $55, a bit steep, so I opted for the 75 cents per minute option, though it requires a $4 setup fee. So it was $10 for eight minutes. It would be nice if the daily Patters contained more useful and organized information rather than puzzles and errors ("success," "it's" rather than "its," and "innovative"). We take cruises around this time to avoid kids, but there's always some, usually home schooled. There were few children on this cruise; the only direct encounter was with two groups totaling five one day on the mini golf course. A sign says kids under age 16 must be accompanied by an adult, but of course there's no one to enforce this rule. One group of three kids ahead was sharing a club, so it took forever to get through the first hole (I ultimately moved in front) and a kid in the other group was hitting his club hard on the course until I told him to stop. FOOD:
The food was better than our previous cruise in March 2007 to the Mexican Riviera - even for the same dishes such as the shrimp scampi [sic] fra diavolo. But we find the food on Princess to be bland, even those dishes marked spicy such as the shrimp. We understand some passengers just can't take the seasoning, but if it's labeled spicy on the menu it should have some spice to it. A goat cheese souffle offered as an appetizer one night was the best thing we had in the dining room. Most of the desserts - even a mud pie - contained gelatin, no doubt to hold up longer, but it makes for some odd results. Dinner at the last formal night featured a lobster and shrimp entree; the shrimp came out on top; they were about as large as the lobster but tender and less dry. One night we decided to pass up the blah dinner menu and go to the Crown Grill, which carries an extra charge of $25 per person. It never seemed full, likely a victim of the economy. This was the best meal of the entire week. The food had flavor and the service was impeccable. After we looked toward the open kitchen the maitre'd came over and asked if we would like a closer look, so we went over and complimented the chefs. My Brazilian lobster, which carries an additional $9 surcharge, was OK but nothing wonderful (I've finally realized lobster isn't all that great), but the appetizer, salad, side dishes, and dessert were fabulous. We'd have gone a second time if not for the scooter incident (see below).
Two mornings we had room service breakfast; the menu hasn't changed in years - just cold cereal, tea, coffee, juice, rolls, and fruit. It was always delivered within the requested half hour slot, but never had the correct amount of what we ordered: milk was delivered one day and another day a second yogurt came even though we didn't order either.
The Horizon/Caribe buffet failed to impress, with too much repetition during the week and some plain weird items. For example, there was baked beans one breakfast and lunch the same day, pizza and other breads that no one seemed interested in for breakfast. The scrambled eggs seemed to be from powder, with a strange texture; the only other eggs were fried eggs with very runny centers - not to our liking. And only one flavor of yogurt (banana/strawberry) was seen. I once ordered a lemonade and my wife ordered two, but the waiter misinterpreted this as two; one tasted like water. There are a lot of six-person tables by the coveted windows here. As a result, parties of two or three occupy them, wasting much more room than if smaller tables were by the windows. More tables for two are sorely needed, as at times there were no tables open and one had to find someone who was done eating and wait for their table.
Twice we came back from ports late and headed for pizza served by the pools to take to our cabin. If fresh, the crust was crackly but if not it was very soggy.
One day on a spur of the moment we went to the afternoon tea. We were probably the last ones in, but had excellent service and enjoyed the live music. My wife, not a tea drinker, actually liked her tea; she thinks the lemon helped. There's more than just sweet items to eat. Not many people seemed to be there, so we hope it'll continue as we're sure all costs are being looked at.
The coffee at the International Cafe ($3 for large Jamaican Blue Mountain) was very good for coming from a machine.
Service generally was good. Because we were on anytime dining, we had different servers every night. They all seemed to be in a hurry, so we didn't have much rapport with them except with one waiter who liked to talk about wine, as we always had a bottle with dinner. When wait times for dinner got to be 45 minutes we'd get a beeper but then go to the other dining room and get a beeper there too. Whichever beeped first got us and the other was canceled, but we probably never waited more than 15 minutes for a table for two. One dinner waiter ignored us for 15 minutes before he finally gave us dessert menus. It can be difficult to get service in Horizon/Caribe even with dozens of crew members scurrying around, so you must be forceful; one just stood there watching a card game.
PORTS OF CALL:
Ocho Rios -
Rather than take one of the ship's excursions we booked ahead with Trevor Hudlin based on info found on the Cruise Critic boards. It was our best shore excursion to date. Trevor has been a guide for 20 some years and made sure we got a top-notch tour, with lots of information about the city and country. He drove a large van that held just another group of five plus us two. We first went to Dunn's River Falls for the climb. Even though we were among the first there, quite a few more people arrived while we waited for a large enough group to form. Guides take you up the falls in groups, then ask for tips. Our group had two guides plus a videographer, who wanted $30 for the DVD. With so many people the going is fairly slow, but one shouldn't rush this, as you are climbing over rocks of varied heights and rushing water. Water shoes are available for rent or purchase and should definitely be worn for protection and to avoid slipping. Beware of the shopping area, as one fellow latched on to us, taking us to his "store" where he proceeded to carve our names in little totem figures then ask for money. I asked how much, and he said people give him $25 or $30. I said I didn't have any money with me, but he said he'd go back with us to our van to get it. After my wife bought a dress from another vendor, both vendors came with us to the van. I gave the carver $8 and he asked for two bucks more so I gave it to him. Only later did my wife see that on my figure one could see where a previous name had apparently been carved out - presumably because he or she didn't buy it! Our group then went up in the hills to view the city from an overlook then through Fern Gully, stopping at the top while Trevor bought some sugar cane samples for all of us to try. Trevor next let us off at the river for our tubing trip before taking the other party shopping. We had a young "guide" to escort us while tubing - like the falls, another way of getting income from the tourists. He helped keep us in the middle of the small river that had a few mild rapids. Halfway down we stopped so we could get our photo taken (another revenue source!) and use the swings in the middle of the river before finishing the trip. It was fun and the water wasn't too cold. Trevor then left us off at one of the shopping areas, where we went to lunch at Mama Marleys. We ordered two appetizers, a beer, and a sugar cane drink flavored with lemon. After we were done, the bartender/waiter said he'd bring another sugar cane drink, which we though was free (it wasn't much for $4), but after paying the bill with my Visa card he said the second drink wasn't on the bill. We paid that with cash but strongly suspect it went into the bartender's pocket. Based on our experience, be prepared to be aggressively "serviced" for tips and another income here. I bought a pound of Jablum Blue Mountain coffee for $20 but saw it elsewhere for $15; it's not the best coffee I've ever had. The weather was 84 F.
Grand Cayman -
There's not much to do here, so we took a city bus ($5 for both of us) to Cemetery Beach at the far end of Seven Mile Beach. It's literally a beach by a cemetery, accessible from a pathway along the far side. There's no services here, so be prepared to be on your own. Trees provide good shade. This was the best snorkel stop of the week, with a dozen different fish including a pufferfish. Buses are frequent, but careful crossing the busy road, as traffic goes in the opposite direction than in the United States. The weather was 80 F.
Aware of the various warnings about renting scooters here, we had reserved two from Smart Cars near the main city square. Unfortunately, our ship docked at a different pier than our last cruise and was three miles away at Puerto Maya. We got in a van with others for the $7 ride (for the two of us) to downtown. Both scooters cost $33 for the day and included helmets. We had no previous experience with them and found them heavy and a bit difficult to get used to. We headed toward the southern tip along a parallel road between the main highway and the coast. I thought the parallel road ended and at one point got us on the main highway. That freaked my wife a bit, as we were going pretty fast. I tried to find access to the beach and at one point I turned around in the parallel street. My wife tried to follow but fell during the turn, damaging the scooter in a few places as bruising her knees and other parts. Fortunately she wasn't hurt badly and were able to continue to Mr. Ponchos or so something like that to what I think was San Francisco beach. We sat at a shaded table and enjoyed a beverage. I went out to snorkel, but there was a strong current and no rocks, thus no fish. We then proceeded further to the El Cedral ruins, which amounted to not much. At that point we decided to cut short our trip around half the island and return the scooters, knowing we'd be dinged for the damage. The guy wanted $280, which is under what I had feared, seeing posts by others before we left for $300 for dings and such as a way to get additional revenue from tourists. I offered to pay with a Visa card but he wanted cash, which was understandable, as we could have returned home and contested the charge. Fortunately, we had the cash and considered it a lesson that we should have taken the $14 per scooter damage insurance, though that might have enough loopholes to be worthless. An expensive day, but at least we survived. Next time we'll rent a car or guide.... The weather was 82 F with a strong breeze.
Princess Cays -
We arrived at the Cays only to be told by the Captain that the waves were too high (five feet) for the tenders, so the ship skipped the island just meandered about for the day. The weather this day and the previous day were cloudy with occasional rain, so it wasn't a big loss. But this was the second time we were supposed to go to the Cays and didn't make it, the first because of hurricane damage. We saved money though, as our shore activities were not charged and the port charge was refunded on our final bill.
We're not big nightclubbers or Broadway show types, but I enjoy comedians and magicians, so I went to as many of those shows as possible. I liked all three or four I attended, though some of the performers repeat their acts. My wife likes to dance, so we tried to find a venue that would allow us to do that. One night after dinner (around 8:30 a.m.) we were amazed to find nothing - every band seemed to be on break at the same time or it was too early for the night's entertainment. I had seen that earlier Ruby cruises featured a live ABBA show but was disappointed our voyage didn't. I went to the last Once Upon a Dream show on Friday, but found it lackluster and plotless - just some pop tunes and dancing. The theater wasn't usually full, which was unusual because on past cruises you had to be there a half hour early to get a decent seat. During the week there was a lot of emphasis on amateur (crew and passenger) shows and such, which just aren't appealing to us. Because we're paying for entertainment as part of the cruise package we expect to see professional performers, not karaoke or talent shows.
On Saturday, we were scheduled to depart at 8:50 a.m. according to the departure schedule based on our flight home. We had breakfast in the dining room, then went to our another dining room to wait until our color and number were called. It was very crowded. I needed to visit the restroom, so went to one by the dining room. The one toilet was clogged, so I went up a floor. Someone had thrown up in that restroom, so I went to another. Someone was in that lone stall, so I went to the 15th deck to the restroom by the Horizon/Caribe buffets. By the time I returned our color/number had been called, so we got off the ship, got our luggage, passed through customs, then walked outside and were second in line for a taxi to the airport (about $13 before tip). All in all it went fairly quickly once our number/color was called.
Hope this review doesn't seem picky, but many of you wonder how Princess compares to other lines so hope this is helpful. No cruise or vacation is perfect, but we always enjoy the value cruises give for the buck. We know what Princess offers and continue to be loyal customers. Just before we left for this voyage we booked a 10-day Eastern Caribbean voyage on the Ruby Princess and are excited to be back aboard next November. Thanks to all you CC'ers for your questions/comments on the boards and your reviews - knowledge is power!