We stayed at the Hampton Inn Airport North in Fort Lauderdale. The hotel was about a 5 minute ride to the cruise port in the hotel's complimentary shuttle. It was clean, comfortable and conveniently located beside a strip mall with a Winn Dixie and other services. For a one night pre-cruise stay, with little time to sight-see, I would recommend it. Also within walking distance was a Walgreens which was important to us because we require Bonine to cruise without feeling ill and are unable to buy it at home in Canada.
We arrived at the cruise port at 11:30 am. Embarkation took approximately half an hour from start to finish. The staff was efficient and friendly.
Ship and Crew:
This ship is really beautiful. There are many lovely tile mosaics on the floor and walls as well as attractive artwork. There were several Christmas trees and other decorations around the ship which made it festive for those of us who celebrate this holiday. Christmas music played all week. All crew members we interacted with were friendly and worked really hard. If we were on deck on in a lounge, service was prompt and efficient. We were very conscious of the fact that they were away from their families for the holidays.
Our cabins were located mid-ship close to the aft elevators on the Aloha deck (A631 A634 and A530). They were very convenient to the buffet and pool decks. They were all pristine when we arrived, with a bucket of ice in the mini-fridge and a cover on one of the beds to protect the linens from luggage while unpacking. We found the storage to be plentiful for two passengers, with loads of room in the closet, cupboard and various drawers. The balconies on this deck are covered which we prefer for some protection from the sun as well as privacy. We did have neighbours who were smokers and although we are sensitive to the smell of smoke, it was not a big problem. We seemed to use our balconies at different times and the odour was rarely noticeable.
We had a 5:30 seating time for traditional dining in the Da Vinci dining room. We only booked this cruise 4 weeks before departing so were not surprised that the 6:00 time was full. We were concerned that it would be too early but in the end worked out well. We were able to eat and enjoy the earlier shows, as well as later activities when we wished to do so. Our server (Norman) and his assistance (Francisco) were awesome. They were quietly efficient, friendly, remembered our preferences each night and handled my food allergies with great care and consideration. We found the food to range from good to excellent. The fillet of beef on the last night was incredibly tender and the many fish dishes I choose were memorable. The shrimp cocktail was a bit soft but fine. One complaint was that my daughter, who is vegetarian, found that the choices for her were very limited. There was one entre each night as well as the standing fettuccini alfredo (which is yummy but very rich and not the healthiest). The buffet was fine. There was a lot of choice although it strangely all starts to taste the same by the end of the week. Still, I did not have to cook or clean up and all family members could choose what they wanted so I have no complaints.
In the inevitable comparison to RCCL, we felt that this was not Princess's strength and would rate it as good - not great. We saw a comedian (Phil Tag), two shows in the theatre, pianist David Juneau in Adagio's and The Luciana De Rissio Quartet in the Wheelhouse Pub. We played in several of the trivia contests which were sparsely attended but enjoyable. On our last Princess cruise we enjoyed MUTS, however on this cruise we were not as happy with the selection. Sometimes it was just a problem with timing (movies that appealed being played in the middle of port days instead of the evenings.) Again, this is just our opinion. In case they are of interest to others, here are a few that were offered: Three nights of NFL football, Clash of the Titans, Toy Story 3 (the best of the bunch for us), The Polar Express, U2 concert, Beyonce concert, Christina Aquilera Concert, National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation, Inception, The Switch, and Eat Pray Love. My son attended the teen club on the first night and met some nice kids. There were many organized activities and the staff seemed to be enthusiastic and welcoming. Despite this, as often happens I think, the teens left the club and hung out elsewhere on the ship. For the remainder of the cruise he chose to stay with the family which was great for us.He was disappointed with the sports deck compared to the one on the Liberty of the Seas.
It was a bit windy and only 21 C (72 F) on PRINCESS CAY but we enjoyed a nice beach day. It is a lovely place and totally relaxing. The clamshells we had reserved worked well on this day to block the wind. We opted to skip the beach on ST MARTIN and spend the day in Marigot. There was a ton of traffic and it took about 45 minutes in the cab to get there (our driver was very frustrated and clearly voiced this). We shopped in the boutiques, the West Indies Mall (several upscale stores) and the outdoor market. We then walked to the top of Fort Louis where we got great photos of the kids in the ruins and the breathtaking views. ST THOMAS was a beach day at Magen's Bay. We had never been there but had read about the calm, clear water. In fact, on the day we were there, the waves were the biggest and strongest I had ever seen. We were soaked just walking along the beach looking for a place to sit for the day. It was actually really funny. We had a great time playing in the waves but you did have to be careful because a few times we would actually be caught in the force of the water, knocked over and pushed up against the shore. It was not a good day for the families with small children. We did really enjoy our time there. It was clean, there were bathrooms and showers, and we felt very safe during our visit. The last port was GRAND TURK. This day was disappointing but only because of the weather. I am sure it is gorgeous much of the time. It was overcast and a bit cool. We were looking forward to snorkelling but it was too rough. Still, sitting under the palms reading a book and chatting is not a bad way to spend a day and it was very easy to just exit the ship and walk to the beach. We did some shopping in the shops at the port.
This part of the cruise was incredibly efficient. We left the ship at 8:15 am, as scheduled, and had checked in our luggage with our airline by 8:45. Unbelievable!
We had a wonderful Christmas cruise and time with our multi-generational family on the Ruby and will not hesitate to take another cruise on this or any Princess ship.