Having very much enjoyed our first Princess cruise last summer to the western Med on Sea Princess, my wife and I responded to a bargain offer from Princess to go to the Aegean this summer on its newest ship, Ruby Princess. The itinerary was a history teacher's (that's me) dream, calling at Naples, Santorini, Ephesus, Athens, and Venice, all of which have some connection to the curriculum I teach.
The cruise departed from Civitavecchia, the port of Rome. We had four days in Rome beforehand and took the train from Rome's Termini Station to the port. It was an easy trip, as we had purchased reserved seats for a direct train the day before. I would strongly advise doing so, as many passengers who hadn't were unable to sit together. From the Civitavecchia station, it was an easy four-block walk to a free shuttle that took us to the ship. Embarkation went smoothly and efficiently. It is our experience that Princess is very good at moving people on and off.
We were in a minisuite forward on the port side. It was spotless, spacious, with plenty of storage. However, when we went out onto the balcony we experienced the first of a number of annoyances we had with the design of the ship. Dolphin deck (Deck 9) is made up entirely of minisuites, and its balconies look down directly onto the sea, which is good. However, its balconies also are looked down on by all the other balconies above, which is stupid. You have absolutely no privacy. Because our balcony extended farther out than those above us, on four separate occasions we found ourselves dealing with rubbish that had fallen on our balcony from those above. Once an orange peel, once a sodden newspaper, and twice cigarette ash. The first problem with ash required cleaning of two of the balcony chairs, and on the second occasion a chunk of still-burning ash fell on my wife's bare arm. The orange peel, newspaper, and first problem with ash occurred during the night, so finding them on the balcony does not at all reflect badly on our room steward, who was excellent. The problem is with the ship's design. Considering that Ruby Princess is the last member of this class of ship, you have to wonder why Princess didn't deal with this obvious design flaw.
Food. We don't do formal nights. On Sea Princess last year we found that our favorite place to eat was the Horizon Court Buffet, so we looked forward to doing the same on Ruby Princess. Our experience this time was not so good. Where last year the buffet included a terrific variety of fresh and nutritionally dense salad ingredients, the salad bar area of Ruby Princess's buffet was comparable to that of an American corporate cafeteria, and not a particularly good one. This lack of variety may have been a budget-cutting response to the economy of the last year, but it made for a less than wonderful experience. Also, the design of the buffet area, which included both the Horizon Court and the Cafe Caribe aft of it, is very poor. The Horizon Court buffet has entrances both fore and aft. While the line is intended to be entered forward and exited aft, the "Exit Only" signs were almost universally ignored. This led to confusion and traffic jams at almost every meal. Further, seating in Horizon Court is simply inadequate to the demand, so we frequently found ourselves going through the buffet in Horizon Court only to have to find seating in the Cafe Caribe. Sometimes, however, the Cafe Caribe was closed, so we (and many others) would have to use the aft elevator lobby to go to the other side of the ship. Why? Because only one side of the Horizon Court would be open at a time.
The Cafe Caribe buffet was another study in strangeness. You would enter, and there would be the bread. Fine. Then a choice of two salads, already plated. One was always a Caesar, already dressed, and the other was a very ordinary mixed green, with a limited choice of dressings in bottles. Next you'd get to the pastas (always two kinds), and then the potatoes. This emphasis on starch again makes me suspect budget-concerns. Next you would get to the meats and fish, with still no sign of a vegetable. If you kept going, which many didn't because by that time their plates were full, you'd eventually find soups and a vegetable dish or two.
Desserts were varied, and always good. The meats were always well prepared, as were the pastas. The vegetables were scanty and pretty hit-and-miss. Compared to the well oiled machine that was last year's buffet on the Sea Princess, however, this one has a long way to go.
We never once went to our dining room. However, we did eat at Sabatini's. The service was excellent, but we did not particularly like their approach of serving every single menu item until you get to the main course. By the time the main courses arrived, we were pretty full, even though we had skipped the soup. And my main course, stuffed chicken, was simply not very good. Our Sabatini's experience actually caused us to cancel our planned dinner in the Crown Grill. One aspect of the Sabatini's evening did prepare us for the Cafe Florian in Venice (renowned for its expense) - our one bottle of mineral water, a regular coffee, and a double espresso cost about $35 (including tip) in addition to the $40 cover commanded by Sabatini's.
The International Cafe was a nice place for a snack, and my wife and I both purchased Coffee Cards so we could get some real coffee or espresso. This was necessary, as the coffee served in the buffets is made up of some kind of coffee syrup mixed with hot water. Its caffeine content seems to be negligible, so we wound up drinking tea instead in the buffet.
My only previous experience with ships aside from Sea Princess has been on honest-to-God ocean liners (United States, France, Lurline, QE2, QM2) with lots of deck space open directly to the elements. I found Ruby Princess to have almost no such deck space. There was plenty of outdoor space on various upper decks, but it was almost all behind glass. Deck space aft is very limited, and open deck space forward is almost non-existent. There is an observation area on Lido Deck above the bridge, but it was blocked off with obviously bogus "wet paint" signs for the first eleven days of the cruise. The Promenade Deck is not only very narrow compared to every other ship I've been on, its surface is some kind of synthetic with a wood pattern painted on it. Very slippery when wet. One very nice feature is that the Promenade Deck does extend all the way to the bow of the ship, although the most forward area was blocked off frequently due to wind and always after dark.
There was always music playing in the various public spaces, and the most enjoyable for me was a pickup band of orchestra guys who like to play jazz. They were terrific.
We frequently used the laundromats on board. Aside from the fact that the change machines in almost all of them ran out and were allowed to remain empty for days, they were fine.
However, the ship was at bottom a port-of-call delivery vehicle. As mentioned earlier, the itinerary was of great interest to us.