This was my second trip on a Princess Cruise and I was joined by my wife on this voyage aboard the Ruby Princess from February 14 - February 21, 2009. We tend to do a little bit more "adventurous" travel, and have done a Galapagos Cruise on a 20-person yacht run by Ecoventura, and an expedition on a Russian Icebreaker to Antarctica (43 passengers, great experience with Quark Expeditions). So, for us - this is a little different than we normally travel. For perspective, I'm 44 and she is 36.
We arrived very late the night before travelling from San Francisco to Miami and driving to Ft. Lauderdale. The next day we returned our car to the airport, and Hertz offered to drive us over to the ship (and didn't charge us anything). The driver was great, and due to the fact we didn't pay a cab, we were able to over-tip - which I really enjoy. I haven't used Princess' transfers on either of my cruises, and based upon what I've seen would consider them way overpriced compared to what I can do personally.
Embarkation - this ran VERY smoothly. It took no more than about 15 minutes from walking in to getting on our ship and going up to our room. We met our steward for the trip, Pol, who was a great day and did a very excellent job at keeping our room clean and was always very friendly. We liked him a lot, so my wife was sure to fill out a blue "comment card" that you can complete for recognition of great customer service. After dropping things off, we went out in search of the soda passes ($29.75 + 15% gratuity for all the soda you can drink in 7 days), and then up to the buffet for lunch. I had read many reviews on the site about the quality of food on the voyage, and would have to say that I thought the food was fine. It tasted good, didn't cause any gastrointestinal problems, and overall was fine. It was a slight notch down from what I had on my Alaskan Cruise - but was still very good, and there was plenty of it. After that, we went back to our room to watch the sail away, and then relaxed for a bit before going around and exploring the ship. The ship itself was very nice, and we liked the layout of it. The Sanctuary looked like a great place to rest, and the miniature golf course, basketball hoops, and other athletic amenities were definitely state-of-the-art. We played miniature golf one day, and it took only about 15 minutes to complete 9 holes - but we had fun (the purpose of this trip, after all).
We had dinner in the Michelangelo Dining Room (we had anytime dining this time around, whereas we had assigned seating on the last trip). The food was good, and we were seated with people whom we didn't know (they were nice) and it took 2 hours to get through with dinner service. Normally, my wife and I don't take that long to eat - and when we were with her extended family up in Alaska, that was a positive - but we didn't want to miss many activities...so, we learned something. If you go at 9:15, you get a table by yourselves, and you are served faster, and can finish by a little after 10 PM. One night, we arrived at 9:40 PM and were out by 10:15 PM having an appetizer, main dish and dessert - and caught a late show of something.
The first night, we also went to the "spa giveaway" night. Now, the spa was an interesting place. I didn't go to the spa on my previous journey, but my wife and I did sign up before we left for the couples massage on Thursday. After going that night, I equate going to the spa as going to a Timeshare Presentation. When we arrived Antwanette (how she spelled it) wanted to show us around, and showed us a private area where only 40 guests were allowed and it had steam rooms, heated chairs, and other amenities - all for the price of $110 each for full use during the cruise. We didn't think that we would use it that much, so turned it down.
Then came the "drawing" - which was basically coupons off for various services that they offer - teeth whitening, acupuncture, massage, facials, weight loss treatments for cellulite, etc.. My wife didn't win anything, but another woman won the $40 off a facial, and didn't want it - so gave it to my wife. We went to the front desk, and they scheduled her facial for the next day (we also got them to knock $20 off of our couples massage).
The next day (Sunday, a sea day) she went down for her facial and described it to me. For the first 15 minutes her dear friend Antwanette told her about the procedure and the products that they would be using. During the facial she was explaining what each did, and talking about their benefit, and then when she was done, Antwanette was nice enough to recommend that she purchase the whole kit n' caboodle for an additional $290. (The facial, with coupon, was $105). My wife was not happy with the whole experience, and felt that all it was was an upsell attempt.
And that was the sad part of the trip that we kept talking about - the constant pressure (especially in the spa) to upsell and buy more stuff. The fact that Princess pictures are $30 each (we saw a couple in line struggling to make that purchase - my wife and I travel a lot - but for them, it may have been their one big trip in five years), the fact that everywhere you go, the pressure is on to buy the Reflections DVD, to buy more spa product, to buy this, to buy that - sale here - shop at one of "Princess' recommended stores" (I bet Princess gets a cut out of what people spend on shopping at their shore excursions). You spend so much time on that ship telling people "no", that it really cuts into my "totally escaping" and enjoying a relaxing vacation. There were many times that I felt that I was at a Timeshare Presentation with the way the sales worked.
One more word on the spa, then I'll hit entertainment. We did our couples massage on Thursday. The massage was excellent! I will say that the two ladies who did the massage were in the top 10% of massages that I've had in my life (and I've had quite a few). Right pressure, right tempo, all very nice (although at $269 for 100 minutes - 50 minutes for each of us, it was expensive). I would recommend the massage - HOWEVER, all throughout I kept waiting for the "upsell". I had told my wife before hand that it would probably be massage oil that they would try to get us to buy. Sure enough, after it was over, they left us for a few minutes - and came back and did a little presentation on how buying this massage oil would be great and we could re-create this experience with just the two of us. I told them "no" (and again, this kind of ruined the great spa experience for me as I always feel slightly guilty telling people no. I liked the two ladies - but had no need for their product - I still have tons of massage oil from when I got married in Tahiti). So, with that letdown, they led us to the Sanctuary where champagne and chocolate covered strawberries awaited us. Once again, the Timeshare mentality continued.
The entertainment was great and a lot of fun. Phil Tag, the comedian was hilarious, and my wife would love to see him again if he makes it to San Francisco. The two main production shows, "Ballroom Broadway" and "Once Upon a Dream" were both excellent - although I definitely enjoyed the Dream more, as I loved the creativity with the music and musical themes. As someone who performs Improv regularly, I thought the performers were good, the dances fun to watch (one woman had the best abs that I have seen in my life. No body fat, incredibly toned - both my wife and I always had our eyes drawn to them, we were amazed). Definitely catch the entertainment - it will be well worth it (and no "upselling")!
One of the big highlights of the trip was doing Movies Under the Stars. My wife and I enjoyed this more than we thought we would and saw three movies - The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, Flash of Genius, and Mama Mia. We got blankets, free popcorn (although an "upsell" opportunity to movie candy for $2) and it was nice watching the movie like that. The Jacuzzi was open, so you could also watch from there. The movies were all good, and we really enjoyed the experience.
My wife and I also took part in one of the game shows - Peer Pressure, which was a lot of fun. It's always fun to get involved with those and I had a great time with the task that I got. We also did the trivia quizzes when we could (I won once). The only down note on that is during one of the scheduled sessions, the staff person never showed up leaving about 25 people waiting for about 45 minutes. Then the Wheelhouse changed to a British Pub and we had to leave (the bangers and mash were just "OK" - although they did have my favorite HP sauce).
Jamaica - Wow. This is an interesting place. I did the Plantation Tour with Dunns River Falls. I liked this tour. I felt the Plantation was interesting, our guide was funny, and I enjoyed this. There were some good views, and we learned a little about the crops of the Caribbean.
Dunns River Falls is a must-see if you go to Jamaica, and don't wimp out - climb the falls. It's not that difficult. We liked our guide up the falls, but the two videographers were EXTREMELY annoying and our group was around 35 people - so it took a long time. The videographers (who were there to hawk a DVD they would make of your climb for the bargain price of $40, although you could talk them down if you wanted it) were constantly trying to get you to look enthusiastic and yell "Hot Hot Hot", and other things, and I just wanted to do the hike up the falls (200 yards), enjoy the scenery and the water, and hang out with my wife and other passengers on my ship who were there and very friendly.
The experience of going up the falls and seeing the plantation was great - but dealing with the videographers was not. Additionally, they FORCE you to go through all the vendors on the way out of the Falls area and they harass you incessantly. Let me give you this, buy that, I feel left out - it's enough to take a great experience and make you regret coming. The same attitude was true for the stores that I visited during the 30 minute "shopping stop". It seemed like the woman in the store (there were about 4) kept checking how much we were spending and kept showing us more things, whether we wanted them or not (we did spend about $50 - and I brought out my American Express. They told me that it doesn't usually work and did I have another card. All I had was my ATM, and I wasn't going to give them that - so I said if it didn't work, I would just have to leave. They tried it, and guess what? IT WORKED!!!!).
For those planning a trip, Princess has taken Jamaica and Ocho Rios off of their itinerary and from what I saw, added Roatan, Honduras. Having spent a week there three years ago (I became a certified scuba diver there), I think it's a great move - and they have a great marine mammal/dolphin facility there, zip-lining, and awesome scuba diving and snorkeling (plus the people are great). If any activities are done from Anthonys Key Resort - do them! We loved that place!
Cayman Islands - My wife and I did Snorkeling at Stingray City and had scheduled the
Island Tour with a stop at the Turtle Farm. The Stingray City tour was good, and if you haven't had much diving or snorkeling experience, I would highly recommend it. There were a lot of people in our group, and the stingrays stayed toward the bottom (although it was only 15 feet deep). Only toward the end, when half the people were on the boat, did the stingrays come and play with me - and that was fun. The captain and crew were good on the trip, and they also did a DVD (surprise?!) which you could buy for $50. Since my wife and I had previously played with stingrays (in Tahiti), and there were so many people in the water (she was constantly kicked and bumped into), we thought that the overall experience was average.
When we got back, our second tour had left already (I booked them very close together hoping I could catch them as in Alaska our tours all got back early). So, Princess gave us a full refund (I was shocked, and didn't even consider asking for it - they volunteered), and we were told that we could take a taxi or local bus to the turtle farm. The bus was $2.50 each, so we chose that. We walked a few blocks, caught the "bus" (which was more like a van) and headed up there.
The turtle farm is great, and we are glad that we did it on our own. We thought we saw our tour group at one point, and they were rushed through, given a turtle to hold (had their picture taken which they could buy - I don't know the cost), and left pretty quickly.
We stayed for about 45 minutes - 1 hour, and bonded with the turtles. They had about 8 turtle tanks, and we bought turtle food for $3/bag. And then we hung around feeding them. They all came up close to us, and we pet a few of them - and they even ate out of my hand! We could have stayed longer, it was so interesting just watching with them and trying to play a little with them. I would highly recommend this - but NOT on a tour as you will be rushed through it. They have another section that also might be worth checking out if you have more time (not turtles, but other activities - it's more expensive). Overall, my wife enjoyed the turtle farm most of all of our excursions.
Cozumel - We elected to do the Coba Ruins, which took a 45-minute ferry boat and a 90-minute bus drive to get to. There, you had two hours to spend at the ruins (I climbed a pyramid as the highlight, great views all around from the top), and then you headed back.
You had the option on the bus to buy a souvenir which is a Mayan Calendar and the highlight on a day you pick. It was $30, and as I've always had an interest in time and calendars - bought it, and was happy with the product when I got it. Lunch was Subway (one woman commented that "I come all the way to Mexico and got Subway????" - but I was glad as I knew what it was, that it was edible, and was happy with the sandwich).
The only sad thing is that we didn't get to spend any time in Playa Del Carmen, which is where the ferry leaves you and you walk to your bus. As a matter of fact, the guides MADE sure that you didn't shop anywhere in this community (and this was true from the three other tours that stopped there, form what people told me). I think Princess doesn't have any deals with the vendors here, so need to make sure the passengers spend money in Cozumel and not in Playa Del Carmen. My wife was very upset as they had a Starbucks there and she REALLY wanted to go…so close, yet so far…
Overall, it was a good trip, but you really are pressed for time. It's good exercise, but I would think Tulum is prettier from the pictures that I saw (HOWEVER, you cannot climb the pyramid at Tulum, so if that is important - Coba is the place to go).
Princess Cays - Great concept, poor execution.
I did my one scuba dive on the trip here, a dive called "Boiling Hole" with Ocean Fox Divers and it was a good dive (only 35 feet), and a lot of fun. I left the ship around 9:15 AM, and my wife was going to get a beach shell and we were going to meet at around 12:30 PM at a store from the map.
Well, I get back from my dive at 11:45 AM (15 minutes early), and I see my wife at the dock. Apparently, she had JUST arrived, and it had taken her well over an hour to get off the ship on the tender and get to Eleuthera (the actual name of the island in the Bahamas that Princess owns a piece of). She was not happy at all. She also informed me that a bunch of people gave up on going to the island and left the Princess Theatre where you met and went back upstairs. We rushed to get to the clamshell claim area (we only had 10 minutes to claim it), and ended up spending about 15 minutes in it. We then went to eat, and then it rained, so we went back on the ship.
I think they could skip this stop in the future unless they find a better way to get people on and off the ship. The line to get back was also incredibly long.
Final thoughts - I enjoyed the cruise (with the exception of the "upselling" pressure) and liked the little things - the milk and cookies at 3 PM in the pool area, or the good service. We ate at Sabatinis (never again, below average service and mediocre food) and the Crown Grill (definitely again on the next cruise - awesome food and awesome service). We had fun, but Princess needs to stop the upselling so much. As it is, I probably won't visit their spa ever again - so, if they want to drive away customers from some of their services, they are doing a great job. Besides that - all was well and good on the Ruby Princess.