I think I'll write this review from the perspective of a loyal RCCL cruiser who wants to offer his best effort at an objective comparison between Princess and RCCL. I cruised with my wife and 2 daughters, ages 10 and 13. This was our 4th family cruise and 6th cruise for my wife and me, with previous cruises on RCCL, Celebrity, and NCL. This was our third annual Thanksgiving cruise, a tradition which will end due to higher cruise and air fares during the holiday weeks, in addition to our children missing some school days. We'll now cruise annually in April.
Embarkation: We arrived from our hotel at the ship around 11:00AM, and waited until our number was called to board the ship. Platinum level and suite passengers enjoyed very quick entry once boarding started around noon. We got onto the ship around 1:00pm, and, to our surprise, our rooms were ready. My wife and I had a balcony room and our girls were in an interior room across from us. This was the first time we cruised in separate rooms, and will now be the way we cruise from here on out. Overall, embarkation seemed as organized as it could be, especially given that we arrived a little early.
Rooms: As you know, the Ruby is a new ship and this was it's third week-long cruise. The rooms and public areas were, obviously, in fantastic shape. The rooms are typical cruise rooms, with size and layout pretty traditional. I will give a slight nod to Princess for how the closet is kind of separated from the rest of the room. It runs perpendicular to the rest of the room so that it has it's own little entry way. Makes you feel like the main room is really a living room. Our room steward was reliable, timely, and thorough, though not particularly effusive in his service. He wore way too much cologne, which remained in the room for hours after he serviced the room. This was an issue for me because of my sensitivities to any chemicals and he failed to correct this concern after I asked him not to wear cologne. I give RCCL the edge in the room service category.
Ship: Beautiful, very beautiful. I enjoyed the colors, layout, artwork, and public areas very much. Two main pools were great, one was quiet with some entertainment during the day, the other pool was noisy since it was in the Movies Under the Stars area. I didn't think I would like this huge movie screen on the main deck but it was cool watching a movie at night with popcorn and blankets. There was an adult only pool that costs $10 per half day, but I did not access this pool. There was also a smaller pool in the stern, next to a bar. This looked like a great area to be if you didn't have kids to supervise. I'd think it'd be pretty special sipping a drink in a pool as you watched the wake left behind the ship. I can't remember the name of the coffee/cafe shop, but this was a great place to get my Mocha. Between RCCL and Princess, I think I'll call it a tie in terms of ship beauty, layout, pool access, etc.
Service: Overall, the staff on the Ruby provided excellent service. They always provided greetings and did anything they could to make your cruise special. When looking at the entire staff, I give Princess the advantage, but both RCCL and Princess have been pretty darn good in this arena.
Entertainment: This was probably the most disappointing aspect of this cruise for several reasons. Let me start by saying that we mainly hung out by the pool, so we look for lots of daytime entertainment, including some good poolside music. Except for the movies by the one pool, there were only 2 or 3 events on the pool deck. We never saw the Cruise Director, James, on the deck, unless he was just walking through. We only saw one of his staff members a few times as well. There may have been more happenings in the bars, etc, but we were trying to soak up sun during the day. The ships production company was inconsistent. One show was lackluster at best, while another show was excellent. In addition, they would repeat shows for 2 nights in a row. This seemed odd when they had some quality special entertainers who could have packed the large auditorium, but were relegated to very small lounge areas. There were lots of entertainers who performed in the Piazza area, but we didn't watch many of them because they performed during good sun worshiping hours. I'm going to have to give RCCL the nod in the entertainment arena. They just seemed more organized, professional, and enthusiastic.
Food: Buffet food was pretty traditional when compared to other cruise lines, though they did offer some very unique options each day, eg "squid ball soup" or something like that. Waffle and Pizza station was superb, and the gentleman making and serving the waffles was probably are most favorite staff person. Main dining room food was fairly good. Meat sometimes overcooked but desserts were excellent. Our wait staff were very friendly and professional, and earned extra tips. Besides the soda card, Princess also offers a card for kids that allows unlimited ice cream and frozen drinks. I didn't like this "nickel and diming" at first, but admit these cards were worth it by the end of the cruise. We give RCCL a slight advantage on overall food quality, but Princess wins the dining service award by a few points.
Kids Program: This is why we are loyal to RCCL. They just seem to understand family needs during a cruise. While the Ruby's kids areas were beautiful and had lots of games,computers, etc, the staff was the rudest we have ever experienced. While there were over 550 kids on this cruise, that's no excuse for the unprofessional and rude actions displayed by the kids program staff. I won't get into specifics, but our girls did not go back to the kids programs after the first day.
Captain: Not sure I would typically write about the captain, but Ruby's Captain Ramous (sp?) was, by far, our most favorite captain. He was lively, funny, and visible. In fact, we saw him more than we saw the Cruise Director in the public areas.
Ports: Due to weather, the Ocho Rios stop as aborted. We were looking forward to "bobsledding" through the rain forest, but appreciate the Captain's focus on safety. Grand Cayman - We booked Stingray City through Princess. This ranks as our most favorite tour ever and highly recommend it. We then hung out on 7 mile beach, which is always a treat. Cozumel - My wife and girls went into town to shop in the morning, and then we all took a cab to go snorkeling at Dzul Ha. Really enjoyed this little public beach, which had chairs and excellent food and service. Snorkeling was pretty good as well. My girls saw their first Moray eels. Princess Cays (private island)- EXCELLENT. By far our favorite private island. Expansive, good snorkeling (take bread), and good eats. Lots of chairs.
Disembarkation: Very organized and timely. No complaints. Bummer was the striking taxis hat would not enter the cruise port. Had to walk about 3/4 mile to wave down a taxi. The strike had something to do with not being treated fairly by port authorities.