We, husband and wife, both youngish seniors, embarked on the shiny new Ruby Princess for the last week of February after completing successive cruises of the Panama Canal eastbound on Celebrity Mercury and the eastern Caribbean aboard another new ship, RCCL's Liberty of the Seas. For this cruise, we were joined by brother/in-law and wife who met us in the terminal. I'll write reviews of the first two cruises later, but will make some comparisons as we proceed with this one.
This was our 8th cruise. The others have included the 3 lines mentioned plus Holland America (Noordam), and four main sizes of ships from small, Tahitian Princess, to gigantic, Liberty. Our past voyages have been to the south, east and west Caribbean, the eastern Mediterranean and recently the Panama Canal for the first time. We have certain preferences partly determined by our age group, but we are happy to cruise with young people. We're not fussy or overly demanding, but we have quality standards rooted in our experience in a Celebrity Galaxy cruise 11 years ago.
Cruise ship standards have changed over the years, just as cruise ship operating costs have changed. Standards have declined, prices have risen. We can't escape this reality unless luxury lines are an option and price not an object of concern. For us, the class of cruise lines I have mentioned represent the limit, so we try to be realistic in our expectations. Ruby Princess met most of them quite well.
Our embarkation went smoothly. We arrived at the terminal at 11:30 by shuttle, relieved of our luggage by porters who knew their jobs and did them smartly and courteously, and were then seated with a group assigned a boarding priority number (3) for 40 minutes. When we were called, the documenting process went quickly and efficiently. The Princess agent was cheerful and welcoming. Upon boarding, we found ourselves in the central plaza, greeted by smiling attendants and a pianist playing beautifully on a white grand piano. Very nice. The plaza/atrium defies my poor attempts at description. Search out some pictures. It is, in a word - magnificent.
We went straight to our cabins which were ready for occupancy. These were both inside cabins (class JJ), just forward of midship on the Aloha Deck (12). We were pleasantly surprised to find the cabins were larger than most of similar class that we have seen, far larger than the equivalent on giant Liberty of the Seas and seemed as large as the deluxe oceanview we occupied on Celebrity Mercury. We were more than pleased. One deficiency, though, the main door has a fair size ventilation screen which admits some distracting light at night and also the noise of passers-by. This may account also for the smoke odors encountered in the passageways by another reviewer, the smoke perhaps escaping a cabin faster than the ventilation system could remove it. The walls were not quite as soundproof as in other ships - we could hear some coughing and TV sounds from adjacent cabins. The crowning jewel of the cabin was the clothes closet - incredibly, impossibly huge. I was reminded of Dr. Who's Tardis, the time machine that is bigger on the inside that it is on the outside. The beds were good, not too soft, not too hard. We slept well. Cabin steward service was everything it should be.
After dropping our carry-ons in the cabins, we hurried to the Horizon Court buffet/cafeteria on the Lido Deck for lunch. Yes, the cafeteria was crowded as they always are at boarding time. Not sure how many stations were operating, seemed like all of them, and they offered a wide variety of excellent food options. The layout of the serving stations leaves something to be desired. Diners may enter from two directions, but the plates (no trays) are only available at one end which is not clearly indicated and not obvious in a crush of people. Space between main buffet counters and dessert/condiments display cases opposite is limited. Al this leads to some bumping of hips and elbows followed by "excuse me's" and "sorry's". I would not say there was pushing and shoving but a non-cruiser might be reminded of feeding time at the zoo. We found the food quality, variety and presentation first rate. If we have a complaint, it was that beverages are served by the waiters which can involve some additional delay after finding a table. There are beverage stations at the ends of the cafeteria but the waiters tend to prefer taking your order and shooing you away from the station. I eat in cafeterias when I am in a hurry so I tend to prefer getting the beverage myself. But that's me. Certainly, there is less spillage the way it's done on Ruby, but waiters' time might be better spent guiding diners to sometimes hard to spot tables. As for crowded conditions, this tended to be the case at popular dining times, but there are two sides to the cafeteria and aft of Horizon Court lies another similar area called Cafe Caribe with more buffet options and more tables. It was often less crowded. Aft of that, it's the rear deck Horizon Terrace with some outdoor tables. Finding good food and a place to eat it is not a really a problem.
Better than two-thirds of Lido Deck is given to two pools, hot tubs, pizza, burger and ice cream bars and the cafeterias; the remainder, forward, holds cabins cabins. At 950 feet long and 118 wide, Ruby Princess does not lack for casual dining and sunning/swimming space, but there is still more space above for sunning and relaxing on the Sun Deck and Sports Deck. Entertainment there goes on most of the day with Movies under the Stars, a screen surprisingly bright in daylight, over one pool area and live music above the other pool.
Dining rooms (3) are somewhat differently laid out than on other ships. Rather than all stacked at the aft end, two, Michelangelo and DaVinci are stacked just aft of midship on decks 5 and 6 respectively. The third, Botticelli, is also on deck 6 but all the way to the aft end and separated from DaVinci by the kitchen. Access is from the aft elevator and stairway. All are nicely decorated in an "Italianate" style adorned with copies of old masters. The large spaces devoted to the rooms, full width of the ship, are broken up by partial walls and other somewhat natural divisions, giving the appearance of smaller groupings of four to six tables of various sizes. We found the layout attractive and far less noisy than the huge, open spaces usually found on cruise ships, though it does break up the standard Baked Alaska parade, which maybe should pass into history. The food was always good, sometimes great, of high standard in terms of quality of foodstuffs, cooking and presentation. I would rate it slightly below Celebrity's standard due to their unequalled sauces and above average deserts, equal to HAL's and much better than RCCL's. Table service was of a high professional standard, friendly but not too familiar, skilled and at times entertaining, definitely a plus. It was equal to Celebrity and HAL, probably better than that we experienced on Liberty of the Seas but only due to that staff's incessant inquiries as to whether we were satisfied with the service and their constant talking up the ship and line. I was there to eat, not be sold again on the cruise.
A final note about dining. We had one dinner in the premium restaurant Crown Grill. Outstanding. It was one of the best restaurants I have patronized on land or sea in recent times. Great food, great service. Highly skilled chefs and waiters. We had a memorable evening. Crown Grill is better than HAL's Pinnacle, way better than Liberty of the Sea's Chops. We did not try Sabatini's, the Italian restaurant.
One nagging bother about dining venues - hand sanitizers must be more prominently displayed at entrances and staff must actively encourage their use. This is the industry standard. Princess falls below that standard. I would also like to see more regular, constant cleaning of surfaces touched by passengers hands.
Entertainment on Ruby Princess was the best of three ships in our four weeks at sea. Singers, dancers, choreography and costumes in theatre shows were all first rate, though a show billed as a demo of a revolutionary hi-tech video projection system was not so great. All seats were occupied for most shows. The ship's orchestra was a highlight of the cruise, as were two excellent rock bands and other musical groups. The rock bands positively inspired a pool deck party and a formal night champagne bash in the plaza. One note definitely worth making here is that while the rock music was loud, as it should be, it was always at a comfortable volume and a joy to hear, whereas on Liberty, music everywhere, whether rock or instrumental, indoors or out, was always painfully deafening, making it impossible to talk or even think. Dancing hurt on that ship. Not the feet, the ears.
I could write more about this beautiful and pleasant ship and great crew, but it's already too much. Disembarkation was delayed by 30 minutes for unknown reasons but probably a slight tardiness in the ship's arrival. We opted for Express Disembarkation to catch a 10:00 AM flight from FLL. The early birds were assigned to four priorities and 7:10 or 7:20 departure. All were made to wait in the DaVinci dining room which proved too small for the task. The head waiter assigned to the supervisory job was completely overwhelmed by the task and clearly worried about potential for damage to his chairs and tables. I sympathized. It's a beautiful room and shouldn't suffer luggage bumps and bruises. No attempt was made to seat or stand passengers according to departure priority which made for a mob all trying to leave the room at once when two priorities each were called in quick succession. Fortunately, close proximity to the gangway/bridge made for a quick escape and we were ashore and through US immigration and customs by 7:45. Twenty minutes later, we were at the airport.
Overall, this was a great cruise and a great ship. I would sail on her again and definitely would give Princess Line priority in choosing my next cruise.