Every good trip starts with your home away from home. We spent 12 wonderful days on the Ruby Princess with a group of friends (also made a few more along the way). The overall atmosphere was wonderful, with over 3000 people on the ship (passengers and crew) - it never felt crowded. The itinerary was packed with history and wonderful sights and scenery (on and off the ship).
We really appreciated the overview each day of the upcoming ports of call. The morning show provided a wealth of local information and allowed us to make the most of our days.
Here are some of the highlights of the ship itself:
For an interior room, we found that we had plenty of space for our clothes and luggage without stepping over each other. Our room steward was very attentive and no matter how hard a day we had of touring, we always returned to a clean room. One on occasion, we went to the pool and used the designated towels. The next day we came back to find new pool towels and a couple of robes to use.
Our wait staff was outstanding. Miguel and Ulysses were very friendly and they both had a great sense of humor. Dinner was an entertaining experience every night. We also found the food to be so good in the main dining room that we did not find a need to try one of the specialized restaurants on board. Overall, we had a 5 star dining experience every night in the main dining room.
You definitely did not go hungry on the ship as there were so many additional options to the main dining room. A grill, a pizzeria, the International Cafe and two main buffet lines gave you the option to eat at a different place every day. The main dining room along with the buffet line featured a different region of cuisine every night.
In closure, we have to give credit to the entertainment staff and the many events that provided endless entertainment. The shows were excellent, with singing and dancing, not to mention a high tech stage with the "Once upon a Dream" show that rivals Broadway. The juggling comedian was also very funny. There was always something to do on board. We only scratched the surface: virtual golf, paddle tennis, ping pong, movies under the stars, a few dance lessons, and a massage. The days at sea provided a relaxing way to enjoy the ships amenities.
We researched this and found out that it is an easy port to do on your own. We did buy the ship transfer into the city though. Once we arrived, we went straight to the Acropolis. The neat thing about Athens is that you can pay twelve euros and see about 8 different sites: The Acropolis Museum, the Temple of Zeus, the Temple of Hephaestus, the Tower of the Winds, etc.
Unfortunately,our flight was delayed by volcanic ash so we missed a day of touring in Barcelona (just another good reason to arrive a day early). We spent half a day touring Sagrada Familia and Las Ramblas. Both were enjoyable. The architecture of Sagrada was amazing! We left wishing we had more time to spend in Barcelona.
In Florence, we had arranged a tour with Rome in Limo. I highly recommend Rome in Limo. We saw the Leaning Tower of Pisa, the Duomo, and the Baptistery. We also saw the square of Michelangelo, the Santa Croce Church, and we toured Academia. Our driver, Vinny, was able to drive right through the narrow crowded streets that tour buses would never get through. We never had to wait in any lines (and there were long lines) and he took us to a wonderful place for lunch. My husband said it was the best lasagne he has ever eaten! On the way back, we asked if he knew a good winery, and after a quick phone call, he got us to one in about 10 minutes. We got a personalized tour and did some wine tasting (and, of course, we bought some wine). When I added up all that we did and compared it to the ship's tours, we saved about $300 and got our own personalized tour to boot.
We arranged a tour with Fatma Acar of Hilliantus Anadolu Tours. Our tour guide was Isak. She was a wealth of knowledge. We saw the Basilica of St. John, the Temple of Artemis, the House of the Virgin Mary, and the ruins of Ephesus. The ruins of Ephesus are spectacular. It was another enjoyable day.
Again we used Rome in Limo to guide us around. Our driver was Carmello (sp?). He was the most personable, but he gave us the least information. In the morning, we drove to Positano, a lovely Italian village on the hillside. We were all charmed by Positano and wished we had spent more time there. Next, we went to Sorrento and had a great lunch. Everyone except me had pizza. I had the prawns and risotto. All the food was excellent! Sorrento was nice, but it was definitely more touristy. In the afternoon, we went to Pompeii. We enjoyed looking around, but we should have gotten a guide. We found out later that we missed several key places (It also didn't help that the ticket person forgot to give us a map).
Once again, we used Rome in Limo. Our driver was Mauro. In the morning, we were able to see the Roman forum, the Colosseum, the Circus Maximus, Capitol Hill, Palantine Hill, the Spanish steps, and the Trevi Fountain. In the afternoon, we had a guide take us through the Vatican. We had debated whether or not we wanted to spend the extra money to get a private guide, but it turned out to be well worth the money. If we had not gotten the guide, we would have missed understanding all the underlying conflicts and humor that went into the artwork. We also would have had no idea what we were seeing.