We last cruised with Princess 10 years ago when we did a very similar itinerary that began in Barcelona and ended in Istanbul. That was our first every experience of cruising and it was a great success - we have cruised almost every year since. Generally we cruise with P&O, preferring to sail out of the UK, but we have also cruised with Celebrity and Cunard. Anyway, we came back to Princess this year excited to be sailing on such a new ship and also by the itinerary which included many ports that we especially like. Our party comprised myself and husband Bob and our two daughters, Lucy - 20, and Daisy - 18. We decided to go for an inside cabin for reasons of economy and after a lot of research picked one on Riviera deck about 3 doors back from entry to the Terrace Pool - a great choice and one I would repeat again. We had a fantastic cruise, absolutely loved it and would highly recommend the Ruby and the itinerary to all. I do have both positive and negative comments in a few areas so here is my review:
The Ship: I really cannot fault the ship. She is beautiful, particularly the atrium area and feels spacious inside. I did feel the upper pools were somehow crowded but it was easy to avoid them if you were with an adult party. We loved the Terrace pool and spent all the time available there - it felt like a private yacht. Our cabin was spacious enough and comfortable, enough storage, quiet and very well positioned. We could be outside in about 10 seconds, in the pool in one minute. The buffet and Cafe Caribe was one deck directly up, Sabatinis 2 decks, Skywalkers several more. We also liked Vines for a glass of wine and sushi plates, the International cafe for wonderful salads and desserts and Crooners for late night drink.
The Food: Again, we thought it was very good. We ate breakfast and most lunches in the buffet finding that the quickest and most convenient option. Generally we had no problems getting a table. At first we were slightly disappointed with the choices on offer at both meals but we soon learned that you could ask for omelettes (rather than an omelette station) and almost anything else you wanted and it would be provided. We had almost every dinner in the main dining rooms and found the food excellent especially as you could always have the lovely Beef Tenderloin steak if you didn't fancy one of the main courses. We had Anytime dining and it worked well for us. We generally ate with our friends (another family of 4) and when we didn't we enjoyed meeting lovely fellow cruisers. One night we ate at the Crown Grill. While we found the food to be good, to be honest, there was just far far too much and we left feeling uncomfortably full. We had intended to try Sabatinis but the Crown Grill experience put us off a bit. The wine list was good and varied, starting at about 22 USD per bottle. We bought soda cards for the two girls and got extremely good value from them. Also bought coffee cards which were slightly less good value. Had burgers on deck one day which were very good (for lunch) and ice cream once (rather runny but tasty!!)
The Entertainment: This was imo very disappointing. We are used to seeing perhaps 4 or 5 shows on a two week cruise. Ruby offered 3 from my counting, each repeated 3 times and audiences were very small. We attended the first "show" which was not a show but a sales pitch for the rest of the shows. Oddly enough this was the fullest we saw the Princess Theatre all week - possibly it put people off the rest of the shows. I also felt the show team were less than sparkling in comparison to the standards I have seen on P&O and Celebrity. A pity because the theatre is absolutely state of the art with many bells and whistles. Club Fusion which is the alternate large venue was also misused imo. It seemed to stage endless karaoke competitions rather than provide venues for alternate artists or shows as per most cruises. There was a fantastic comedy acrobat on board who would have done well in there but most of the time he was in the atrium and missed my many people. I do think the management of the entertainment needs a real shakeup. Often shows were cross-timetabled to the embarrassment of the artists and audience. We went to see Philippa Healey who has starred in London musicals and she was put on against the world cup final and we sat with maybe 40 other people in the Princess Theatre which was very uncomfortable.
The Ports: FANTASTIC!!! The weather was hot and sunny throughout except for Istanbul and there was soooo much to see. I suspect that many came home as we did with memories that need time to settle. I must explain we have been to all the ports several times before so our plans are not perhaps usual. Venice: HOT and HUMID!!! Thank heavens we had prebooked tickets for St Marks. We also very much enjoyed the Scuola Grande di San Rocco, wandering the streets, the St Marks Museum, the Rialto Markets etc. Athens: HOT! We got a cab from the port to the Acropolis - 20 USD. Thank heavens we got there early and walked right in with relatively few people about. As we walked down there was a HUGE queue of cruise parties waiting in the heat. We also visited the new Acropolis museum which was superb and a wonderful display of the treasures from there shown as if they were still on site. Kusadasi: A private tour with Tayf Tours. Absolutely fantastic. We were the second people through the turnstile and I have never seen the main street of Ephesus empty before. We probably had it quiet for the first hour. Visited the terraced houses as well which were superb. Got back to Kusadasi around 1130 and did a little bit of shopping in the bazaar. Istanbul: Pouring with rain. :) Taxi to the Topkapi and toured there including the harem. Then walked through the old town to the Santa Sophia, Blue Mosque and Roman Cistern (wonderful). Walked to the Grand Bazaar and spent several hours there and had lunch (great) Walked down through the market streets and visited the Spice (Egyptian Market). Great day and I always want more time. Mykonos: we took the ship's tour to Delos which is a superb place. It was quite rushed and not really long enough. Barely 5 mins in the museum. Had about 90 mins to shop and snack in Mykonos town afterwards. Another place I would like to spend more time in. Naples: got a taki to the Phlegrean Fields Underwater Archaeology Park and dived the sunken city of Baia. Marvellous to swim among the Roman villas and temples - fabulous mosaic floors and statues. Rome: got the train and visited the ancient sites. It was horribly hot - 98F - and quite gruelling. On the way back the train had no air conditioning. Never again. Florence. Had been before in the week before the cruise so we stayed on board. Monte Carlo - gorgeous. Strolled around the yachts. Barcelona - another great city. Visited the food market. Ate tapas. Swam on the beach. Shopped.
All in all a fantastic holiday and we met lots of very very nice people. My only gripes consist of the entertainment which was not a big deal as we were all pretty tired by night time after the touring but which does need improving. The other thing was that we found the Princess alcohol policy really quite strange at least for the first half of the cruise after which it underwent a very noticeable change. In Europe it is legal for people to drink from the age of 18 upwards. Now, we knew that this was probably not the case on Ruby but we though it might be possible to sign a parental waiver as is the case on RCL, Cunard, and Celebrity - all US shipping lines. In any case, on these cruise lines, the policy is enforced in the bars and not with wine at dinner. We have never had a problem on any ship before giving our daughters a glass of wine with their food. Bear in mind that they are 18 and 20. Anyway, for the first half of the cruise we had to have a rather humiliating exercise every dinner time where we would agree with the waiter that he would pour our wine and then leave the bottle on the table for us to pour for the girls. Sometimes this needed the appearance of the maire d to happen. Then about half way through, it all changed and the waiters started serving the girls wine!!! I know a lot of other European families were upset by this so maybe there were complaints, I don't know. Don't misunderstand me,no one wanted to get sozzled or order cocktails, but a glass of wine with dinner with parental approval shouldn't be a problem on a ship flying a British (Bermudan) flag in European waters and - last but not least - charging these kids as ADULTS not children. Anyway, slight rant over: :) we loved the ship and would definitely sail on her again although probably not in preference to P&O at least in the next couple of years. It's a great itinerary though.