Just back from our trip on the Ruby Princess. This was my 46th Cruise, 6th with Princess. The ports (Antigua, St. Thomas, St. Lucia, Barbados, and St. Kitts) were wonderful! We had to miss Princess Cays due to a strong Northerly wind, making it unsafe to tender, but that is obviously no fault of the cruiseline. However there were some issues with the ship, making for some not so pleasant experiences, which I will talk about later.
As always, we flew to Fort Lauderdale a day early due to coming from the Midwest, and the potential snow delays. The morning of our cruise, we got to the port at about 10am, it was suprisingly almost empty in the terminal. Last year (1/2009) it was almost full inside the building at that time.
Embarkation processing started at approximately 11:30am, and we were able to board at about 11:45am. Cabins were ready for us at the time, which was very nice to be able to put our stuff inside the rooms that early, instead of waiting until 1pm or 1:30pm on other cruiselines. It was a COLD day in Ft. Lauderdale (High of 41 degrees and rain)
Ports: I'm not going to go into detail for each of the ports, as people have done so a lot!
Food: The food was fairy good. I was impressed with the buffet selection most days, especially in Cafe Caribbe (Which is the back part of the buffet on lido deck). On Sea days, the Cafe Caribbe and Horizon Court selection at lunch are different so be sure to check both out. Dinner in the buffet was very good most nights as well. The problem with the buffet is that it is OVERCROWDED! It is often a challenge to find a table during breakfast (anyday) and lunch on sea days. In the mornings, people like to sit and enjoy their coffee which takes up table space for those trying to find a table to eat since tables are so limited for the capacity. Dining room food was pretty good. For me the menu selection was "weird", not a lot of "plain, American food" like I enjoy. Pizza on the Lido deck was wonderful! They had cheese and pepperoni every day, and also had a "daily special" that changed every day.
Entertainment: This is my biggest complaint about the ship. The good news is that they had wonderful comedians every night! I really enjoy stand up comedy so I enjoyed this a lot. The production shows are nothing to write home about. One was so bad, I, along with about 20% of the theater got up and walked out. The entertainment venues are too small. (Princess Theater and Explorers Lounge) for most shows, if you were not seated 30-35minutes before the start of the show, you were not going to find a seat. Most of the shows are repeated over 2 nights, but some are not. Even with the shows being repeated for a total of 3 or 4 times, the venues are still very crowded. The Explorer's lounge doesn't even hold 300 people (If there are only 4 or 5 shows, makes it so not even half the ship can see the show), and the Princess theater holds 922 people (There are 3599 people on the ship). Sometimes the 7pm shows, when offered, had some space due to the majority of the ship eating dinner. The 8:30 and 10:30 shows are always VERY crowded!
Why So Crowded? The public areas on the ship are very crowded. When they built this ship, they took the grand class (Grand, Golden, Star) and added 600 passengers, but did not expand any of the dining areas or any of the theaters, thus creating crowds and a struggle to get seats.
Norovirus: During the cruise, there was in increased number of Noro cases to the medical staff, so they started to serve us in the buffets (Which made long lines longer)(but understandable) and they were doing a lot of cleaning. I think they did a good job of keeping passengers healthy, as it sounded like the numbers went way down.
I had a interior room on the aft of the Riviera deck. Don't get these rooms! You will hear the galley noises (operations and cleaning) all night. Also people from the mid sections of the Riviera deck reported hearing pool valve and motor noises all night.
In conclusion, it was a good trip for the ports, but I wasn't impressed with the ship due to being over crowded, and a lot of the staff seemed rude compared to other trips I have been on. I will probably do princess again, but not one of the "Expanded" grand class - due to the long lines and heavy crowds.