It was great being back on the Ruby, as we had sailed on her fifth cruise last year to the Western Caribbean. During this recent cruise a first birthday party was held one night with an enormous cake; Tony Yeomans was still the captain.
On November 3 we flew from home on the West Coast to Ft. Lauderdale. We stayed the night at the Extended Stay on the 17th Street Causeway. Cost after two earlier reservations at higher prices at this hotel was $72 including tax. It does not have a shuttle to or from the airport or cruise ship terminal. It does have a kitchen but no shampoo in the bathroom; some reviews have not been favorable, but we thought it was kept up well and quiet, plus it is in a great location. Cab fare from the airport was $16 including tip.
The hotel is across from a small shopping mall with a Dollar Tree, Starbucks, and bagel shop; a liquor store, Winn Dixie grocery store, and restaurant (Quarterdeck) where we had dinner on Cordova Road; and several restaurants and other stores. To the west there is a large shopping area with a Publix grocery store and Total Wine, where we bought wine to take aboard. Princess charges $15 corkage fee for each bottle consumed in the dining rooms, saying there is a two-bottle limit, but we had seven bottles over the 10 days and had no problems. Its wine list is not bad, but it hasn't changed in some time and focuses on large wineries more centered on mass appeal.
Taking a taxi from the hotel ($12 including tip), we arrived at the port about 11:30 a.m., tipping the porters who took our luggage from the taxi. Inside the terminal, we were given a number 2 for our group even though we told the people outside we were platinum members. The group inside of elite members was called then those in wheelchairs. We began to get suspicious, then confirmed would have been in the first group - not well communicated! We were on the ship at 11:45 a.m. After going to our cabin we went to the Horizon/Caribe buffet for lunch, walked around on the "scavenger hunt," went to the spa pool and the muster drill, then went up for the sailaway party.
Our cabin was a balcony cabin on Caribe deck. The balconies on this deck are larger compared with those on other decks, though you do pay more within the balcony category because of this. We had two reclining chairs and two deck chairs, plus a small table. The part of the balcony just outside the sliding cabin door is covered, due to the overhang from the Baja deck, which provides privacy and shade. Our neighbor was a smoker, which unfortunately prevented us at times from enjoying our breakfast or other time on our balcony. Why can't certain sides of the ship or decks be nonsmoking?! Could hear conversations and televisions through the cabin walls; quite noisy!
Our steward brought us bathrobes after we asked but often did not fill our ice bucket during the week. The TV guide was missing, so had to ask her for that. But for the first time the cabin refrigerator cooled well, though one day the cabin temperature never cooled down enough even at the lowest setting (our neighbor had the same problem). We often smelled cigarette smoke in the hallways because of the ventilation in all the cabin doors - the smoke must come in through cabins from balconies. Because we were platinum members, we received free a $100 credit (250 minutes) of Internet use. Most of this time was used in our cabin on our laptop, which worked out well.
The food was good but the repetition from past cruises and from day to day (especially breakfast) was frustrating. Three mornings we had room service breakfast; the menu hasn't changed in years - just cold cereal, tea, coffee, juice, rolls, and fruit. It was always delivered within the requested half-hour slot but sometimes contained milk that we didn't order. The last morning we had breakfast in the dining room, and the other mornings went to the Horizon/Caribe buffet. The latter was OK, though items did not change much during the week. My favorites were the chocolate croissants (apparently available only every other day) and lox. Made-to-order omelets are available if you ask one of the cooks behind the hot item area. The service, both during breakfast and lunch, is much improved over the past, with waiters eager to get beverages for us. My big complaint about the buffet is there are a lot of six-person tables and it was often hard to find an empty table. Parties of two occupy the larger tables, wasting much more room than if smaller tables were available. For dinner, we had Anytime Dining and never had to wait (as in past cruises) to get into the dining room for a table for two (pagers are used to buzz when a table is ready if it's busy), though we made an effort to avoid the peak 7 p.m. rush. About half the nights we asked to be in Carlos's (waiter from Portugal) area, as he was very friendly and eager to please. One evening we went to Sabatinis ($20 extra charge each). Because we don't eat meat, about half the appetizers were not available to us, but we still had plenty of food and didn't feel stuffed as is usually the case with people who dine here.
PORTS OF CALL:
Princess Cays - After missing this stop on two earlier cruises due to hurricane damage and rough seas, we finally got to Princess' private island. This was the only time during the trip that we had to take tenders from the ship to the island. We reserved a clamshell chair and a kayak. The beach is filled with chairs, so if you get off the ship early you can get your choice, though there's not a lot of shade, which is why the clamshells are nice. It's basically just a shade over two lounge chairs and does get a bit warm. I enjoyed the half hour on the kayak. The lunch buffet was OK. The vegetarian burger was awful, but fish was available.
St. Thomas - We docked at the new Crown Bay dock, to the left of downtown (not Havensight, which is on the right) and took an open-air shuttle ($4 each) to the main downtown shopping area. Because we had been in this port twice before, we decided to just do a bit of shopping and have lunch. We noticed the Hard Rock Cafe is gone. For lunch, we went to Gladys' Cafe, which we had read about in a travel book. A lobster sandwich was $11 and a screwdriver $3. From there we returned to the ship via shuttle. The port has some shops, but not near as many as at Havensight. At the marina within walking distance there's a grocery store with a great selection of wines.
Barbados - At this port we took a van shuttle ($4 each) to the downtown area of Bridgetown. After walking around a bit (we seemed to be the only tourists there) in the Inner Basin and finding little of interest, we took a cab ($15) to the Mt. Gay rum factory for a tour ($7 each). This is well worth the time and money, as at the end there is a sampling of the full lineup of products. From there we walked north about a half mile to Brandon's Beach, also known as Malibu Beach. Not much there on the south side, where we swam. To leave, we walked about 10 minutes north to the Malibu rum area, where we caught a taxi ($10) back to the ship. The woman who first accosted us wanted to charge us $20 each for the return but thankfully we refused and found an older male taxi driver who was a bit more honest.
St. Kitts - We had booked our own tour with Thenford Grey. This tour ($48 each, meet at the port arrival hall at 8:30) with his brother Sackville Grey went north to Romley Manor with the batik factory (pouring rain!) followed by Brimstone Hill Fortress before turning around to the long southern peninsula and stopping at a viewpoint. Too bad so much of this scenic area is scheduled for development! We ended at Cockleshell Beach, where those on the tour who wanted to stay for awhile got off. The latter is a decent small bay with the Reggae Bar ($10 appetizer of conch fritters and $17 for a lobster sandwich). We sat at a table with an umbrella, had lunch, and swam. There's live music and a freshwater shower. We were there for an hour and a half, then returned to the ship.
St. Lucia - This was the only stop where we took a Princess four, the Best of St. Lucia with catamaran and lunch ($95 each). We boarded two catamarans near the ship, then headed south along the shore to a small beach where we could swim and snorkel off the boat. Vendors came up in their boats selling goods. From there we sailed into cute Marigot Bay, then into Soufriere by the Pitons. There we got in a van and headed to the drive-in volcano at Sulphur Springs, where we could see bubbling mud and smell sulphur. Locals offered tours for tips. Then we traveled to the Morne Coubaril Estate for a tour, sampling the fruit from cocoa beans, sugar cane juice, and fresh coconut meat and juice. Lunch was a Creole buffet with a rum punch. Then we headed back north to the ship with a brief stop at a scenic lookout over Marigot Bay.
Antigua - We had reserved a tour with Lawrence of Antigua for $35 each beforehand (meet at 9:30 a.m.). Our ship was late getting into St. John's because another ship didn't like its berth and moved, so we were late getting into our berth and thus to our tour meeting area. Lawrence was there but had to wait for others in the tour to show up. We stood in the hot sun for 45 minutes before getting on the bus and later waited a half hour at Nelson's Dockyard (where we could have had more time to look around rather than the brief stop); that's a lot of waiting! We think he was a bit overwhelmed by the other two buses he was coordinating, but it was a nice tour. We traveled across the island to the south to Shirley Heights and Nelson's Dockyard in English Harbor. From the former vantage point we could see Eric Clapton's house (rents for $50,000 a week and sleeps 14). The stop at Nelson's Dockyard was too brief - only about a half hour, so the tour and time to ourselves went quick. We drove down Fig Tree Drive through the rain forest (saw a mongoose crossing the road) and was dropped off at Long Bay beach on the east coast for 1 1/2 hours before being picked up for return to the ship. There's a small restaurant and shops there, along with a large resort and nice beach. We were then picked up and driven back to the ship. The port at St. John's has a shopping area, but it's one of the smaller ones on the trip. I had wanted to go to the Crafts Market, but that about a kilometer away in town and we didn't have time before the ship left.
Note that if you bring large bottles of liquor back on the ship from ports, when returning you'll have to check them until the end of the cruise. But you can easily get pints back on board by putting them in your pockets. Unfortunately, most stores don't carry this size. Bring back some local beer too! Too bad the ship only has the mass market brands.
We were surprised to see some of the same acts from our cruise 11 months ago; didn't expect to see that! Two comedians (Carl Strong and Cary Long) and a Broadway show (Once Upon a Dream) were repeats from last December, and the comics had the same jokes. Boy, you'd think there was some other talent in the world. Also aboard were comedian Steve Carte, ventriloquist Ronn Lucas, and magicians/illusionists Tony Laffan & Kasey-Laura. There was a fair number of amateur (crew and passenger) shows, which doesn't appeal to us, as we expect to see professional performers. But we did participate in the Majority Rules game show, which was fun. Many of the professional shows were repeated the next day, usually multiple times but in smaller venues than the first time. We were disappointed that so much of Movies Under the Stars was devoted to pop concerts, baseball, and football; they should drop "movies" from the title since it's not accurate. But we weren't on board to watch something on the big screen that we could watch at home.
On Saturday, we were scheduled to depart at 8 a.m. according to the schedule based on our flight home. We got up to see the new Oasis of the Seas in port; a total of seven cruise ships were in that day. We ate breakfast in the dining room, then went to Club Fusion (reserved for platinum and elite members) to wait until our color and number were called. We got off the ship, found our luggage, passed through customs, and walked outside to catch a taxi to the airport ($15 with tip). The whole process went quickly, but then we were in one of the early groups.
We always enjoy being on Princess, though the repetition on the menus and entertainment can be disappointing; it doesn't make you want to cruise too frequently. But cruises are a great value and it's exciting to wake up to a new country nearly every day. Even at 10 days we didn't do all that we wanted to, but it was nicer than our past seven-day cruises, which go by way too fast. Thanks to all the CC'ers for your postings - this is a great community!