Background Info: This was my 7th Cruise and first official cruise with Princess but we are Captains Circle members due to a previous cruise with Sitmar in 1984, and they were taken over by Princess. Our other cruises were on NCL, RCI and Carnival, so I will make comparisons where I see fit.
Travel: We used the Cruise Air and from Winnipeg so the air travel is the day prior with a forced overnight hotel. We got our flights around 6 weeks prior with Northwest, with one stop in MSP en-route. The flight times were excellent and not going east protected us from the major snow storms that caused many to miss the departure.
Hotel: The Marriot North is a little off the beaten path but after a long day of travel it has everything you need to rest up before the cruise. There are many restaurants just a few short blocks from the hotel and I understand that the hotel will even provide a complimentary shuttle.
Transfer to Port & Embarkation: The Princess rep met us in the hotel lobby after 11AM and gave us the new health questionnaire that must be filled out declaring that you are not actively ill. This is a new procedure to me that attempts to eliminate passengers from bringing illnesses into confined spaces. The bus left at 12 noon and after the 15 min bus ride we were at the port. Embarkation went very fast and if it wasn't for a couple of passengers, that happened to be in my line, who hadn't filled out their on-line boarding pass info, we would have been on board in less than 15 minutes. My suggestion to Princess would be if someone arrives without their ship boarding info completed, they should send them to another table or computer terminal to complete it rather that holding up the line.
Ruby Princess: The ship is stunning and very tastefully decorated. It follows a more traditional promenade, lido & sun deck design, with the Grand Piazza as a gathering spot. It can be more confusing to navigate compared to the RCI ships with the multi-story Royal Promenade. It was comical to see the looks on people's faces when they suspect then realize they are going the wrong way. My suggestion here is for Princess to have the hair of their Sea Witch always trailing to the rear. We had a BD balcony for ourselves and an inside JJ with twin beds for the boys across the hall. Both rooms were spacious enough and I liked the open closet layout that eliminated always having to open another door. The washroom was compact but efficient. This was our first experience with the tiered balcony's that you look down on from Baja. Caribe deck rooms are the same size and the balcony is twice the size, with half covered and half exposed. Dolphin deck has the mini-suites and their deck is fully exposed so if you plan on "hanging out" on your balcony sans clothing you had better request a robe.
Public Rooms: All lounges and dining facilities were tastefully decorated and well staffed. Club Fusion and Explorers Lounge had similar entertainment of singing, dancing and smaller comedy games/acts. Crooners Lounge was the main piano bar and Heather was an excellent classical pianist and singer. I found that the ship needed another piano bar or guitar player that was less formal and interacted more in a sing-a-long way. The Pianos in both Crooners and Adagio (at the back by Sabatini's) was at the end of the room more like a performance, rather than an interactive intimate setting. The Piano Bars I have experienced on all other cruise lines were more interactive and fun. The Wheelhouse bar also had some jazz type performances and maybe this could also be another venue for raw sing-a-long pub style entertainment. Skywalkers night club, at the top of the ship, is where the late night DJ music happens but when I say late night it doesn't really get going until after 11PM and then some.
Princess Theatre and Shows: When I first walked in I was looking around to see how the balcony opened up but there was none. While waiting in there for the tenders I found out that it held about 850 people so for a ship of 3200 + passengers they have to run the production shows over 2 nights for everyone to have an opportunity to view it. Their two production shows Broadway Ballroom and Once Upon a Dream, were very well done. The singers and dancers were some of the best I've seen and the shows were awesome. The special effects used for once upon a dream projects the sets onto movable walls, providing great flexibility and eliminates the need to store large sets. The other Comedians, Hypnotists', Jugglers, Singes helped to pass the time. We didn't catch all the games because we were just too busy.
Pool Decks: I saw the sanctuary area but don't go for the pay and pay as you go cruising. You could still use the pool in that area that has the swim against the flow feature and it was very refreshing. The aft pool was a protected and enforced adult pool. The chair hogs were out in force around the main pool and around the MUTS pool. I really wish they would develop a system of marking vacant seats and removing the personal belongings that get more sun than their owners. Some people have take to removing items on their own and taking the vacant seats. This is a universal problem to all ships as I do not think the cruise lines like the idea of confrontation with the passengers.
Dining: We opted for traditional First Seating in Botticelli Dining Room. I like the fact that they now offer the option for Anytime Dining but I miss the elaborate multi floor open dining rooms found on RCI and CCL. There are many options for snacking from Pizza and Burgers on the pool deck to the nice selection of salads, sandwiches and treats at the international cafe. The international cafe needs to set up line cues for the busier times as people come from all directions and it is difficult for the servers to keep track of who is next in line. Like the chair hogs, some people feel they have a sense of entitlement and that their time is more important than anyone else's. I also found the Sushi bar very confusing because they have it so far back into the Vines Wine bar they make it intimidating for you to approach the counter without feeling you have to sit down and order a drink.
Service: This was fine everywhere and we did not experience the up-selling pressure that others have complained about. Our Waiter and Asst Waiter Surrey and Don kept us entertained and fed. Elmar our stateroom attendant was the ultimate ghost who got everything done without you knowing he is there.
Ports and shore Excursions: I really liked doing the time change when leaving and returning to FLL. It helped keep us on local time and I never missed a sunset prior to first seating.
Antigua: Went on our own to Dickenson's Bay at Sneaky Pete's for cab fare and chair rental.
Barbados: Our shipwreck & turtle snorkelling with the ship was cancelled and we went to the beach at the Boat Yard that includes chairs, a drink and a shuttle back to the ship, all for $ 10 pp.
St Lucia: We did the best of St Lucia Land and Sea and highly recommend it. The tour was awesome as were the guides who spent the better part of their Christmas Day catering to our every whim.
St Kitts: Went to Ziggy's on S. Frigates Bay for a great day on the beach.
St Thomas: Did the Ship Discover SCUBA at Coki Beach. This was a PADI sponsored tour that was well run with the correct balance of briefings and dive time. They also had the option of purchasing an HD Video of your dive for $ 60. Since it was the first dive for me and the boys we got it and the picture and sound quality was to a high standard. Thank goodness you don't have to get up early to go through customs like you used to prior to leaving the ship.
Princess Cays: They have a spectacular set up that would be perfect if it were not for the tendering process. The fact that they use their life boats to tender assures you they work but they really bob around like corks with only a moderate chop. I feel sorry for the poor guy who got soaked because the front window was not properly sealed.
Disembarkation: This was by far the best experience we have had for all the cruises. We had the proper tags and were directed to a lounge to wait to be called. When we were called we were off and through customs in less than 15 minutes.
Pet Peeves': - Chair Hogs and Line jumpers require control mechanisms since they have none - The up and down elevator lights are red so everyone is always asking which way the elevator is going - Need more indications of Forward and Aft - Princess does not organize a Meet'n'greet for Cruise Critics members but hats off to Princess for providing a room and for Cruise Director, Lisa Ball, for taking time to spend with us. Thanks to Umbargar for doing the work to organize ours.
Summary: I do not have a Favourite Cruise line because all the major players have their own Niche and Princess is no different. She is a classy cruise line with a hard working staff that looks out for our every whim. Sure we all have likes and dislikes but that will happen with any major operation. I would sail any of the major Cruise lines again including Princess, based on their itinerary and value for the $.