Background: This was our 11th cruise on Princess. This was our first time on Ruby Princess. We have sailed on Caribbean Princess previously which is the same ship class, and have done Eastern Caribbean itinerary once before. We are a married couple in our 50's. We booked this with our travel agent and had onboard credits as CCL stockholders.
Pre-Cruise: We had scheduled to fly into Fort Lauderdale from Michigan on Saturday, one day before the cruise. But after watching the weather-related travel delays the week prior, we changed our flights from Saturday to Friday. We had used Delta Frequent Flyer miles and ended up with a 20,000 miles reduction for the change in dates -- such a nice surprise.
Hotel 1: We stayed at the Fairfield Inn on Griffin in Dania the Friday of arrival using Marriott points. The hotel was completely sold out, mostly guests getting ready for Saturday cruises. We used the free shuttle from the airport to the hotel. We arrived at about 1pm (early) and our room was not ready, so they took our cell number and drove us across the street to the BassPro shops to do some shopping. We were called about 20 minutes later notifying us our room was available. Instead of calling for the free shuttle to return, we just walked back to the hotel. Our room was standard Fairfield Inn with clean bed, clean shower, and TV with cable. Breakfast was included. The breakfast area was very crowded, but we found a table for 2. The breakfast employees worked hard to keep the food supplied and did an excellent job.
Hotel 2: We transferred to the Hampton Inn on 12th (FLL Airport North) on Saturday using free shuttles. We had reserved this for Saturday night using Hilton Honors points. We would have also stayed here on Friday too but it was fully booked before we changed our travel to arrive another day earlier. We arrived at about 1pm (early again) and our room was not ready. We checked our bags and headed across the street for lunch (Wendy's) and shopping (Winn Dixie) for soda and water. Our room was standard Hampton Inn with clean bed, clean shower, and TV with cable. Breakfast was included. The breakfast area here was also very crowded, again due to guests heading to the ports. The hotel provided a free shuttle to the port and we were scheduled on the 10:30am shuttle. It was a little hectic trying to get the groups organized by ship and loading all of the luggage. We arrived at the pier by 11:15am.
Embarkation: Getting onto the ship was a breeze. We waited in the lounge for Platinum status until we could check in. Coffee, juice, water, and sweet rolls were provided during the wait. We boarded about 11:50am. They verified our passports, scanned our credit card, and gave us our cabin keys. We bypassed the embarkation photo as this was our 11th Princess cruise and didn't want one. Our steward was still busy preparing cabins on the busy turn-around day. We did the introductions, asked for top sheets, face cloths, and robes and discussed our dining times. So easy!
Muster: Our muster drill was at 4:00PM. Princess makes this so easy, with everyone assigned to a lounge - no standing outside wearing life jackets! There were the usual number of passengers who arrived wearing the jackets, and others who were brave/dumb enough to blow on the whistles.
The Ship: The Ruby was launched in 2008 in still looks new. It was sold out and filled with capacity with lots of families onboard. We had worried about a holiday cruise having too many kids onboard. A crew member from the kid's club said there were almost 700 kids registered in the clubs (ages 2-17). But our worries were unfounded as most were very well behaved. This ship includes the International Cafe, 3 main dining rooms for traditional and anytime dining, the Horizon Court and Cafe Caribe for buffet dining, Vines for wine and cheese, a Pizzeria, Trident Grill for burgers and hot dogs, Scoops Ice Cream bar, plus Crown Grill and Sabatini's specialty restaurants. There are 5 bars/clubs/lounges. The library has plenty of books to borrow plus some games. There are 3 pools (one adult only near the spa), the Sanctuary for relaxing poolside, a fitness room, a spa, a theater, plus Movies Under the Stars (MUTS). We have been spoiled by the Princess Sun Class ships where the promenade is all on the 7th floor, whereas the Ruby Princess has the promenade on the 8th floor at the front of the ship, requiring stairs up and down to walk around the deck. I did not schedule a spa treatment on this sailing, but loved that I was still allowed to use the spa steam room, pool, showers, and locker room without charge.
Stateroom: We had an inside cabin, which is typical for us. We were upgraded to the Baja deck and we close to mid-ship. The inside cabins are pretty small, but there is plenty of storage room in the closet, drawers, and on shelves. The bathroom is furnished with bar soap, shampoo, conditioner, and body lotion. Is seems Princess has stopped providing face/wash cloths unless you request them. Our steward did an excellent job of getting in while we were out.
Activities: In addition to the usual cruise activities, there were extra events for Christmas. The entire ship was decorated, Christmas music was playing in the dining rooms, "Twas the Night Before Christmas" was read in the Piazza, Carols with Ship's officers and crew twice, and Santa was available several time and he handed out gifts (stuffed Teddy bears) to the children (and many adults). Many of the cabins doors were decorated by the guests.
Entertainment: Lisa Ball, the Cruise Director, kept the schedule full with so many things to do it was difficult to stay idle for long. The theater had the usual Welcome Aboard Show on the first evening. There was also "Stardust", "Holiday Showtime", and "Once Upon a Dream". The comedian, Phil Tag, was excellent. I went to see the Magician/Illusionist David Cats, but left after 15 minutes - it was too loud for me to enjoy. His show was standing room only, so others must have enjoyed seeing him. The Piazza had plenty of entertainment including a woman who did Hula Hoops (very talented), a Juggler, a Jazz band, and lots of other music.
Dining: We did the Anytime dining for dinner every night and ate at the Michelangelo Dining Room each evening at about 5:30PM. We always requested and got a table for 2 only and never had to wait. The dinner menus were excellent. The French evening has been eliminated much to my enjoyment. The Chef's menu was presented one evening with fewer choices than usual, but you can also order from the always available list that night too. I especially love the cold fruit soups and had a difficult time choosing a flavor of ice cream from three different offerings each evening. One evening I ordered mixed berries for dessert, which is not on the menu but always available. The waiters must be required to try to sell the bottle water, because we were offered it every night. A polite "no thank you" worked each time. We ate breakfast in the Horizon Court most mornings and enjoyed the selection of fresh fruits. We did choose the International Cafe several mornings for coffee and donuts. For lunches we mixed between the Da Vinci Dining Room, the Horizon Court, Trident Grill/Pizzeria, and the International Cafe. I was surprised that the Main Dining Room (MDR) was closed on 2 of the port days. The Horizon Court was nearly empty those days, so it made good business sense to close the dining room. But we love to be "served" in the dining room and missed those 2 days. The fish tacos in the dining room were excellent, plus there is ice cream for dessert. The Horizon Court has everything you need for an excellent salad. One afternoon we grabbed a quick burger and fries at the Trident Grill. And I absolutely love the Chicken Salad in the International Cafe - the recipe has been shared on the CruiseCritic Princess boards several times. If that wasn't enough, we also spent one day at the Pub Lunch and had Fish and Chips. The food was plentiful and we enjoyed every meal.
The Ports: We stopped at Princess Cays, St. Maarten, St. Thomas, and Grand Turk. We have been to Princess Cays multiple times in the past and decided to stay onboard during that port call. We had the ship almost to ourselves and found plenty to do onboard. The previous 2 sailings of Ruby Princess had missed this port due to rough waters for the tenders, so most onboard were happy when Captain Tony Yeomans decided to allow tenders to go to shore. We did not do any excursions at St. Maarten or St. Thomas and just visited the port shops. Grand Turk was a new port for us and we walked through the shops and Margaritaville, watched the Flowriders at the pool, and walked along the sandy beach. There were lots on conch shells on the beach, but the cruise team advised all to not try to bring any off the island.
The Seas: The seas seemed a little rough on the first evening heading to Princess Cays and again on the way to Grand Turk. The pools were emptied and then one was filled again. The water was really sloshing out with every wave. There were plenty of poolside chairs available that day!
Disembarkation: Princess has really improved the disembarkation process. Instead of everyone crowding the public areas and stairs, passengers are assigned one of the public lounges based on the scheduled departure. We did not fly home until 4 days after the cruise, so we were in one of the last groups to get off. We left the cabin at about 7:15AM and headed to Club Fusion with other Platinum cruisers to wait for our 9:15AM exit. We had coffee, juice, and sweet rolls and read the newspaper provided in the Platinum lounge. When our group was called, it was fast and easy to exit. Our luggage was waiting for us and getting through customs was uneventful.
Once we were on the pier, things were not as smooth. The layout of the port has passengers crossing a busy street with all their luggage and the median on the other side was full of luggage and people. It was not very organized. When the rental car shuttles arrived, passengers mobbed the doors and were very rude. We struggled trying to get a ride to Budget Rental car at the FLL airport. There were plenty of big shuttles for National but we only saw one Budget shuttle and it was full. After several calls to Budget, we ended up taking a public shuttle for $10/pp to the airport.
Post-Cruise: We had a rental car and stayed in South Florida for 4 more days. We stayed at the Homewood Suites (Hilton) in Dania. The suites were very nice and include a kitchenette. The hotel includes breakfast in the morning and a manager's reception (light dinner) in the evenings.
Summary: We enjoyed the entire trip. For anyone planning to fly to a cruise port, I would encourage you to fly in at least one day prior. The Ruby Princess is an excellent ship and still seems new. The service was excellent, and the food was very good. There was plenty to do onboard and the ports had lots of excursions available for everyone. Our hotel choices for pre/post cruise all provided clean rooms with easy access to the port and the Ft. Lauderdale area. While onboard, we bought 2 Future Cruise Credits (FCC) to sail on Princess again. We have since booked the Diamond Princess for Alaska in May/2011 and are looking forward to sailing Princess again.