• We flew in to Venice a few days early to do some sightseeing. We stayed in a 1200-year old hotel right on the Grand Canal. Early in the mornings we sat in our window alcove, sipping coffee and watching boats carrying school children, trash, groceries, dry cleaning, UPS deliveries, etc. We took advantage of the local seafood and pasta and even tried the local specialty drink, a Bellini (Prosecco and peach juice). Being ballroom dancers, one of our goals was to dance in Saint Mark's Square, so we headed there the first evening and danced to several dueling orchestras around the piazza.
• We boarded the Ruby Princess Friday afternoon around 2 pm. There were no lines; embarkation was well organized and we were in our stateroom within 30 minutes of dropping off our bags. The average passenger seemed to be about 65-75 years old and surprisingly active. We were told that there were only four children on board. The Venice Chamber Orchestra performed in the Princess Theater the first night. They were excellent and played Vivaldi's Four Seasons, Mozart's Eine Kleine Nachtmusik, and Anderson's Syncopated Clock and Blue Tango. Sailaway was Saturday around 2 pm, complete with Sarah Brightman singing "Time to Say Goodbye".
• Sunday was a relaxing day at sea.
• Monday - When we docked in Naples, we awoke to a downpour, which lasted till around noon. That didn't stop us from going on a private tour arranged by a friend. 20 of us toured Pompeii and Herculaneum, with a stop for lunch in Pompeii.
• Tuesday - Rome is over an hour away from the port of Civitaveccia so we opted for the ship's day-long tour. This meant no standing in line and not having to worry about the ship leaving without us if our tour bus was late returning to the port.
• Wednesday - Cannes - This was an unexpected treat. Eight of us took a private tour. We had an excellent guide who drove us up the French Riviera, first to Antibes, then to the foothills of the Alps and inland to St. Paul de Vence, a beautiful walled city.
• Thursday - Barcelona - Having been to Barcelona twice before, we decided to explore on our own. The Gaudi "Bone House", Casa Battlo, was the ultimate destination. A visit to Barcelona would not be complete without a stroll down Las Ramblas and the Boqueria (market) where we picked up a few gifts.
• Three lazy sea days followed. Several times a day, performers entertained in the Piazza, including acrobats, singers, and a musical quartet. The nearby International Cafe had a good variety of snacks and pastries, along with specialty coffees. We took advantage of Princess' "Coffee Card" ($24), which entitles you to 15 specialty coffees and unlimited fresh-brewed coffee. Princess has no shortage of activities. Several lecturers spoke on a variety of topics (these were not your usual port shopping lectures!). During the day, the Crown Grill was designated the "Games Room" and Skywalker's night club was a quiet reading room. Movies were shown throughout the day, both on deck and in the Princess Theater. There were the usual trivia, bridge, ceramics, dance classes, Pub Lunches, High Tea, tours, so many things to do it's hard to imagine anyone being bored.
• Ponta Delgada, on the island of San Miguel in the Azores was our last port. It was a beautiful green island with a lot of farmland. We took the ship's tour to a beautiful pair of lakes in the crater of an inactive volcano.
• Five lazy sea days followed Ponta Delgada. Again, lots of opportunities to participate in activities or relax around the ship. On the last formal night, the Cruise Staff held the Ruby Red Ball in the Piazza, with music, dancing to Rhapsody, a balloon drop and a good time for all.
General comments about the cruise:
• Sam, the Cruise Director, was great, the best cruise director we have experienced in our ten cruises. She was quite friendly, very visible and full of enthusiasm.
• We had one of six oversized interior cabins on the Riviera Deck. The extra storage space was well appreciated. Michael, our cabin steward, was very efficient, unobtrusive and responsive to several special requests.
• Many of our fellow passengers were well-seasoned cruisers and shared stories of itineraries quite different from our usual Caribbean cruises. This inspired us to think about different itineraries for our future travel.
• Ballroom dancing is an important part of cruising for us and we especially like live music. Princess always has several dance venues and bands, in addition to the house orchestra. There is always some place to dance from about 5:30 pm till the wee hours and most groups are quite willing to take requests. (Thanks a million DJ Marcus!).
• We were concerned that the seas would be rough on the Atlantic crossing. The second day was a bit choppy, but overall it was a fairly smooth voyage.
• Cruise food is a very subjective topic. We feel that Princess' food is not quite as good as it used to be (our first Princess cruise was in 1998). Nothing was ever bad, but the menu often seemed lackluster and we opted for the buffet on several occasions. We chose Anytime Dining because of the flexibility. Service was mixed, sometimes excellent, sometimes slow and average.
• Entertainment - we enjoyed the production shows. The singers and dancers were quite talented. The house orchestra and the group "Rhapsody" were our favorites.
In summary, we had a blast on our first transatlantic and we will certainly be back! A tip of the old pirate's hat to Commodore Romano and the crew of the Ruby Princess for a great overall experience.