Background: We are a professional couple...late 30's, mid 40's. This was our 7th cruise together, 5th on Princess. We've previously sailed on the Sun Princess, Dawn Princess, Grand Princess, and Crown Princess. We consider ourselves somewhat well-traveled with usually at least one trip out of the country each year. Pre-cruise travel: Normally, we would try to arrive at the embarkation city at least one day early but we were able to get a direct non-stop flight into Ft. Lauderdale early on the day of embarkation at a considerable savings so we decided to chance it this time. There were no issues with the flight and taxis were plentiful at the airport. We were at the Port Everglades Cruise Terminal by 10:15 am.
Embarkation: Although many people were still disembarking from the previous cruise we were allowed to enter the terminal immediately through a small, secondary entrance that was set up for early arrivals. We were assigned to Group #1 and we waited in the holding area until our number was called around 11:30 am. The check-in process is very well designed with multiple check-in stations based on what deck you are assigned. We were the first ones in line for our deck and the whole check-in process took less than 5 minutes. We quickly boarded the ship and even though it was still before noon, our stateroom was already available. So we dropped off our hand baggage and immediately headed up to the Sanctuary to reserve our spot for the entire week. Thanks to all our fellow CC'ers who suggested you get there early to make sure you can get a spot. We were the first ones there and we got our choice of all the loungers in the whole place.
Sailaway: We are not big fans of buffets, so after getting our Sanctuary seats reserved we headed to the dining room for lunch. At first the greeter said that the dining room was only for in-transit guests. We assumed this meant passengers who were between back-to-back sailings. But, since there were many open tables and several staff members just standing around we decided to ask to speak to the Head Waiter to see if he would make an exception. He came over and before we even had a chance to say anything, he waved us in and sat us immediately. Just another lesson, it never hurts to ask. The food was good and during the meal it finally felt like our cruise had really begun. After lunch, we decided head for the Crown Grill to make reservations for later in the cruise. We had already reviewed the menus for the week (thanks again fellow CC'ers!) so we knew we wanted to skip the Caribbean Night in the main dining room. Since we had been on the Crown just over a year prior, we didn't need to spend much time exploring as the Ruby is virtually identical to the Crown. After the muster drill we met up with the crew from our CC roll call for drinks at the Adagio bar for sailaway. Our bags didn't arrive to our stateroom until sometime between 4:30 and 5:30 pm so we decided to get ready and go to dinner before unpacking.
Ship Info: The ship is beautiful. As mentioned previously, we knew what to expect because the Ruby is almost identical to the Crown. It just felt newer and fresher since it is a brand new ship that had just launched. The common areas are plentiful and very tastefully decorated.
Stateroom: We booked a Category G (Outside - Obstructed View) Guarantee and were assigned a Category D (Outside - Unobstructed View) on the Plaza deck (P316). Due to budget constraints, this is the first time we have booked anything below a balcony category since our very first Princess cruise which was to Alaska. We were a bit concerned that we would not be happy with the accommodations. The room was quite a bit smaller than we are used to but adequate with lots of storage space. The upper berths on both side walls made it difficult to walk up on each side of the bed when it was in the Queen configuration. It would have been much easier to move around if the beds were separated in the Twin configuration. This is just something to keep in mind if you are considering a stateroom in this category. The bathroom is also quite small but we didn't really notice any difference from the balcony rooms in this regard. The bed was quite comfortable and we had no problem sleeping even without our usual egg-crate mattress. The main saving grace was the location of the room. It is just down the hall from the main Piazza so it was a very short walk to many areas of the ship that we like to frequent such as the International Cafe, the dining rooms, the Casino, the shops, etc. So, even though it is a smaller room, we would certainly consider this category and location again the next time we're on a tight budget. I also have to mention our Stateroom Steward, Jirasin. He was fantastic. After noticing that I had pulled an extra blanket from one of the upper berths on the first night, he made sure to include it on my side of the bed every night for the remainder of the cruise. He even made me a towel animal dog when I mentioned that I liked the towel monkey I happened to see in another room. This was the first time I've ever felt that the room steward deserved extra money on top of the automatic tip for going above and beyond.
Dining: We prefer Princess' anytime dining and request it on every cruise. We ate at a table for two every night and although some nights we were not able to be seated immediately, we never waited more than 10-15 minutes for a table. If we had agreed to be seated with others, we would have been seated immediately every night. Overall, we felt the food in the dining rooms was very good. The evening that we ate at the Crown Grill there was a large wedding party seated near us. Because of this, initially the service was quite slow. But once they cleared out, everything was fine. The food was very good but not excellent as it had been during our previous cruise on the Crown. Still, it was worth the extra cover charge. We highly recommend the dessert sampler tray with a small portion of all but one of the desserts on the menu. They were all very good and we were glad we were able to sample them all. The waiter also recommended that we share an order of the cobbler that does not come on the sampler tray. We're glad we did, it was delicious. We didn't really utilize the buffet except for a late-night dessert a few times which were OK. Not outstanding but not terrible either. As mentioned previously, we enjoy the International Cafe and recommend that everyone at least check it out to see if there is something there you might like. We also enjoyed the English Pub Lunch in the Wheelhouse Bar on sea days. It was a nice change of pace for lunch. We utilized both the on-deck grill and pizza place for lunch on days when we returned late from tours. The food from both was good although there was quite a line at the pizza place when we went and a lot of people had to wait a very long time to get their food. And, don't forget the free ice cream at the buffet during lunch and the warm cookies on deck in the afternoons. These are two nice touches that we don't remember on previous cruises.
Service: We felt the service was on par with previous Princess cruises we've been on. We never ran into a rude or seemingly unhappy crew member. Everyone was friendly and helpful. Overall, service was very good.
Activities/Entertainment: Daytime Activities - There was the typical daytime fare. We always enjoy the horse racing and I joined a team for Passenger Feud which was fun. Uber Rossi in the Piazza was good but we had seen his act before when we were on the Crown so it wasn't quite as exciting as the first time you see him perform. We spent a lot of time in the Sanctuary. This was one of the things we were most looking forward to. As some have mentioned, it can be very windy especially during sailing but we had very good seats that were blocked from most of the wind and when we did get chilled from the wind they always had blankets for us without even having to ask. Our main steward, Karanyot, was fantastic. They really go out of their way to make sure you are comfortable and relaxed. We will definitely be using this amenity on all future warm weather cruises.
Nighttime Entertainment - We tried to make it to as many evening shows as we could since last time we only caught a couple of shows during the entire cruise. James Micheal, comedy magician, was fantastic. If you ever get a chance to see him on a future cruise, make sure you do. His act is hilarious and he is a very good magician as well. Jason Neistadt, comedy impressionist, was OK but we felt his material was in need of updating. Many of the characters he did are very old and while I know that the average age of cruisers tends to be up there, many in the audience didn't seem to recognize some of his characters. We caught both production shows and while one, Ballroom Broadway, was just OK the other, Once Upon A Dream, was excellent. They also had the basic Princess shows. We enjoyed the Love Boat Legends karaoke where the singers dressed up as the artists and Peer Factor which was exactly the same as when we participated during our last cruise on the Crown. This time we just watched and laughed along with the rest of the audience. It gave us a fun perspective of what we looked like up there when we did it. Another highlight was the International Crew Show where some of the ship's crew members perform. Our Sanctuary Steward, Karanyot, sang "Suddenly" and he was fantastic. It's fun to see the people you've been interacting with all week get up and show off a hidden talent like that. Another activity we enjoyed was the "Have You Seen It?" trivia game where they show scenes from popular movies re-enacted by the ships crew and then ask questions about it. A lot of fun! Overall, we felt the entertainment was pretty good.
Casino - We both enjoy gambling a bit but we do it just for fun so we are what you would call "low rollers". But, we did spend some time at the tables and had fun. I wish I could say that we did well, but that would be a lie. In fact, this was probably our worst stretch at the tables ever. But, that happens and you can't blame the casino. We just had a bad run of cards. We were glad that the casino offered non-smoking and low-limit periods. We understand that there is going to be smoke in a casino and we tolerate it because we enjoy playing but it's nice to have a couple of times during the cruise where we don't have to breathe all that second-hand smoke in order to play.
Spa - We decided not to use the spa this time. The Sanctuary was relaxing enough for us.
Ports/Shore Excursions: We pre-booked all of our excursions through Princess. We usually use Princess excursions in ports that we've never been to before because we like the security of knowing that they are already set up on the ship's timetable and we've always been pleased with Princess' execution of the tours.
Ocho Rios, Jamaica - We've been to Ocho Rios before on land-based vacations and we've done all the usual stuff like Dunn's River Falls, etc. so we were looking for something different. We had rented the documentary film "Sun Dogs" about the Jamaican dogsled team and we were pleased to see an excursion that would allow us to not only visit the kennels to meet the dogs but also have a ride on a special cart that the dogs pull. We pre-booked the last two spots for the tour but what we didn't know until we got there was that these were the ONLY two spots for that particular tour. There was one other couple that went with us and did the same tour except without the ride. It was expensive but we're glad we did it. We met many of the dogs that were featured in the film as well as the main musher Devon who was also in the film. He was very nice and eager to talk about the dogs and the program. All of the dogs are rescue dogs. Although they can't be taken out of the country due to Jamaican animal control laws, the mushers actually train for and compete in big name races. In fact, one of them was on his way back from just completing the Yukon Quest race in Canada when we were there. We had a great time on this tour and recommend it to anyone who is a fan of dogsled racing.
Grand Cayman, Cayman Islands - We booked the mini-boat stingray tour but it was cancelled at the last minute due to rough seas. This is the first time we've experienced poor coordination from the shore excursion team. The entire group (about 12 of us) sat patiently for about 45 minutes waiting for our tour to be called before finally asking what was going on. It wasn't until then that we were informed that the tour was cancelled. One of the staff members got confused and thought that we had already been informed of the cancellation. We were immediately taken to the tenders with the next group to go ashore and were told to see the Shore Excursion Manager on shore. We talked to him and, although he was not very sympathetic to our situation, we ended up booking a normal stingray snorkel boat trip. So, at least we got to go out to the sand bar and snorkel with the rays but it definitely was not the experience we had planned for. However, since this is the only time we've ever experienced an issue with a Princess excursion, we're willing to give them a pass and just chalk it up to human error.
Cozumel, Mexico - We did the all day tour to the Mayan ruins at Tulum. The tour was interesting and our guides, Pablo and Ignacio (aka Nacho), made it enjoyable with their obvious interest and passion for the Mayan history and culture. Be aware that any tours to the mainland will require a 45 minute ferry ride. Even though the water didn't appear to be that rough, there was a lot of movement in the boat on the way over and many people ended up very nauseous, including us. So even if you're not prone to seasickness, you might want to take precautions. Also be aware that this tour does take ALL DAY. We had a little time for shopping in Playa Del Carmen but no time for shopping in Cozumel. In fact we had to rush to get back on the ship when our ferry got back.
Princess Cays, Bahamas - Based on advice from fellow CC'ers we made sure to get to the Theatre early to get on the first tender over to the island. Also, on the advice of CC'ers we headed straight over the bridge and down to the quieter section of the beach. Since we were some of the first people to arrive, we had our choice of seats so we settled into a couple of loungers under a palm tree for shade. We had decided to forego a clamshell because we had heard that they get very hot and weren't necessary because there is plenty of shade available. In retrospect, we probably should've gotten a clamshell for two reasons. First, it was only about 70 F that day so the heat would not have been an issue and second, all of the clamshells are set up close to the waters edge so the view from where we sat was that of the backs of a bunch of clamshells. LOL. Oh well, even with CC you still have to learn some things yourself, I guess. The barbeque lunch was OK. We weren't expecting much from what we had read but overall it wasn't as bad as some people made it out to be. Other than the baked beans, which were horrible, everything was typical barbeque quality.
Disembarkation: Based on significant airfare savings, we chose a flight that was scheduled to leave very early on the day of disembarkation so we elected to do the express walk-off disembarkation. We had done this before so we pretty much knew what to expect. We like this option because you do not have to worry about getting your bags outside of your room by any certain time. We packed at our leisure the night before disembarkation. Be aware that you need to be able to easily handle your own luggage if you want to do this because there really is nobody there to help you. I was a bit annoyed by Princess' choice to have the express walk-off passengers gather in one of the dining rooms to await disembarkation. It was very difficult for people to maneuver their luggage in and out of all the tables and chairs. On the Crown Princess, we waited in the casino which was much more open and easier to move through. Even so, we were in the first group to get off the ship and we were through customs in a matter of minutes. Taxis were plentiful and we were at the airport with time to spare for our early flight.
Summary: Overall we had a wonderful time as we've done on every Princess cruise previously. If you enjoy the good stuff and don't sweat the bad stuff, it's pretty difficult to have a bad time on a cruise. We loved the Ruby, Princess' newest jewel. Next it's off to the Panama Canal!