This being our first cruise, perhaps our expectations were too high. We are a Canadian couple in our early 30s used to doing backpack and resort types of vacations, but wanted to experience something different and a bit more luxurious.
We started our vacation a week early and went to London, Marseille and then on to Barcelona. We spent 2 days in Barcelona before the cruise and absolutely adored the city. We used a service called Homelidays, staying in an individual's apartment instead of a traditional hotel. Helped save costs and was a very nice place overall.
Embarkation Since we're used to walking, we trekked - luggage in tow - from the Drassanes metro stop to the pier. It was long (about 45 minutes), but good exercise! We finally got to the pier at about 2:30 and it was packed. So much for Princess suggesting we arrive after 2 p.m. to avoid the lineups; we waited almost an hour, but only because there was only one security scanner open when we got there and it takes time to get everyone through! Once through security though, the actual check in process was smooth and easy.
Stateroom We took an obstructed OV cabin to get at least a little light in. Surprisingly, we still had a great view from our room. The cabin was spacious and kept very clean by our steward Enrique, who was very helpful and friendly.
Dining Our first meal once on board was quite good, and we were in high spirits as well as in awe over how beautiful all the common areas were. Within a few minutes though, the very annoying trend started... and continued throughout the cruise. We were asked 8 times (I counted) whether we wanted to buy something to drink. We bought two coffee cards and signed up for wine tasting, but that was it. We drink little alcohol and do not like pop, so other than coffee, all we typically drink is water. Got the impression that the wait staff did not like this as I think they get some kind of commission on their sales. Questions like "How come you don't want alcohol?" were really improper and made us feel like we HAD to buy something.
We had signed up for anytime dining, and ordered a bottle of wine. As we didn't finish it the first night, we asked for it the second and the waiter looked annoyed that we were asking for the previous night's bottle rather than ordering another one. Service was rushed and impersonal the first two nights so we decided to switch to traditional dining. Really cannot compare the service we received those first two nights from the wait staff (including the snobby and rude Maitre D in the Da Vinci dining room) to all the staff we encountered in the traditional dining Botticelli the rest of the cruise. In traditional, everyone really is much more service oriented, friendly and go out of their way to assist. We were seated with two Chilean couples who were extremely nice, but given the fact our Spanish is limited, discussion was a bit rough. Since it was the third night, we did not think it appropriate to ask to change tables so we made due. It was still an enriching experience and made us practice another language so can't complain on that front.
On to the food. On the positive side, I have a somewhat weak stomach and can proudly say that it was the first time I was on a trip and did not get some sort of stomach ailment. On the negative side, food was pretty bland and typically looked a lot better than it tasted. Food was my biggest disappointment on the ship. We are not picky eaters, but I guess we were expecting something better. Vegetables in particular were so salty I couldn't eat them half the time (and I love salt!) Meat was always perfectly cooked though, but oftentimes the cuts weren't the best. We went to Sabatini's one night and very much enjoyed, but realized that the quality of the food we got there was what we had been expecting throughout the ship. There was a major "mass produced" feel to everything that was served everywhere else.
We typically had lunch off the ship or skipped it altogether depending on when we had breakfast. However the buffets seemed pretty limited most of the time (we've had better selection in Cuba!) but certainly sufficient and great for salads. Breakfast buffets were similar, but again, there is no way anyone can go hungry on this ship. You will always find something at least somewhat decent. The only annoying part about breakfast was the wait staff constantly coming by asking if you wanted to buy a bottle of water for your excursions. Given how much we pay for a cruise, I would expect one bottle of water per stateroom at least would be included each day. So not the case.
Activities and entertainment We did trivia a few times (we're not too good!), I played bingo once (and won!), watched a couple of movies and attended the beginning of a couple of shows, but that's pretty much it. Because we had selected the 2nd seating, we were usually too tired to take in much of the entertainment. Of what we did see, everything seemed good, not spectacular, but certainly entertaining.
Excursions We did not do any Princess excursions as we had already been to a number of the ports and typically prefer to do everything on our own. We found the prices way too expensive overall (in our opinion), but if it had been our first time in Italy for example, we probably would have done a couple of tours.
Disembarkation Very stress free, probably because we did the express walk off with our luggage. We left the ship in Venice at about 7:45 and headed to the "People Mover" - essentially a tram that doesn't go very far - to Piazzale Roma (1 euro), then bought bus tickets to the airport (3.8 euros per person). The bus ride was quick, only about 20 minutes, and uneventful.
Summary We enjoyed our first experience on board a ship, but think any other cruise will be on a smaller ship. We felt too much like we were just a number most of the time on the Ruby. We had selected this cruise based on the itinerary, and on that side, we were quite pleased, but would have liked more time in certain ports. Given that we like to immerse ourselves in a culture and city when we visit new places, we realized that a Mediterranean cruise was perhaps not the best option for us due to the short amount of time you spend in port. It is, however, excellent if all you want is a taste of a city or to see just a few key sites you've always wanted to go to. We preferred the places where we got to spend more time (i.e. Barcelona and Venice)... as well as our favorite city in Italy: Naples.