Eastern Caribbean - Ruby Princess (December 5-12, 2010)
Princess Fan: This was our 5th cruise on Princess but the first on Ruby Princess. We did a similar cruise on the Crown last December and had done a Crown (back to back) in 2008. The Dawn (Mexico) and Coral (Panama) were our other two Princess ships and we are looking forward to the Star in the Med next June. We booked on the web in August and were accompanied by friends who had also taken the Crown cruise with us last December.
Leave one day early if possible: We left Halifax on Saturday morning on a US Airways flight through Philadelphia. We mostly always travel Air Canada and have had terrific luck with connections over the years. We never want to relive our 2008 journey when we had a Continental flight through Newark cancel hours before we were to leave which unleashed an amazing race to our ship that included 8 airports in 42 hours to make our cruise in Puerto Rico The Crown actually waited an hour for the unforgettable back-to-back 14 day cruise. Returning home had us storm stayed in New York for three and a half days as well. We now avoid New York/Newark at all possible costs. Having never been in Philadelphia, we found the airport very friendly and relaxing during our four hour break between connections. We arrived in Lauderdale at 2:00 p.m. Picked up our rental car and were in our Sheraton Suites room in Plantation by 3:30 p.m. We were minutes away from the Broward Mall and decided to do some last minute Christmas shopping for a few hours. The facility was a very nice 'Starwood' suites facility, we didn't have much time to enjoy the hotel. After shopping we were off to a local Outback Steakhouse for dinner. It was Saturday evening at 7:00 so there was a line. While we were waiting for our table (45 minutes) we had time to find the ABC Liquor location to purchase our wine and spirits for the cruise. This terrific store is near Sawgrass Mall. It actually had its' opening last December and we were some of its' first customers. We got back to Outback just in time to be called to our table. I've been to Outback Steakhouse on many occasions and this was the first time I was disappointed with my steak. Apps were fine, service good but steak was overdone and returned. It was replaced with a much better steak but it really takes away from the dining experience.
Pre-Cruise: The next day was Sunday (cruise day from Everglades). We were ready to leave the Hotel at 9:00 a.m. Had breakfast at IHOP and then found a Walmart for a few last minute supplies. We took the 595 back to the airport to return our car. There was a motorcycle rally or charitable run heading west as we went east. The bikes took over the 595 for miles. We are talking thousands of bikers in everything from Santa suites to beach wear. We were happy to be going east and having had a view of this event from an opposite direction. Our wives were dropped off with luggage at 11 am and we returned the car to the airport. Eight ships including the RCL Allure were departing that day. Everglades has it down to a science. No delays getting in and out of port facility. Our car rental company actually drove us back to the port in our rental car so we did not have the added expense of a taxi or shuttle bus.
Embarkation and First Impressions: On our return to the Port, our wives had secured a place in line to get into the facility. Getting onto the ship was a breeze. We boarded about noon. They verified our passports, scanned our credit card, and gave us our cabin keys. The Ruby is very similar to the Crown so we felt right at home. We checked our cabin on Riviera aft and then set out to have some lunch and explore the ship. We had our passport stamped at each of the featured destinations and purchased a soda card. After all of that we had 30 minutes to unpack before muster time and our CRUISE CRITIC meeting at the Terrace Pool for the Sail Away. While our discussion group had about sixty or seventy participants, only about 16 to 20 showed up. We were all happy to finally meet, had a few drinks and then we were off to the Sail Away Party and prize draws. Next to the Horizon for the Sailaway Buffet. Lots of food variety but seafood is featured including lobster claws, bay scallops and shrimp. Living on the east coast of Canada we are spoiled and get our share of lobster and deep sea (large) scallops and cold water shrimp. The lobster on cruises is not much of a treat for us but for some reason we always manage to enjoy a plateful of claws with drawn butter.
The Ship: The Ruby was launched in 2008 in still looks new. It was sold out. We noticed a much younger demographic than previous cruises. We were told there were about 300 kids onboard maybe that was why we noticed a younger demographic. We also noticed a much busier Horizon Court/Cafe Caribe and quieter dining rooms in the evening. We mostly choose a room mid-ship on Baja but always enjoy the Terrace Pool so this time we decided to get a room on Riviera with easy access to the Terrace. The pool side chairs were busy most days so plan a strategy if you want a place in the sun. On one of the sea days there was actually a wedding one deck above (outside Adagio) which we watched.
The library has plenty of books to borrow plus some games. On the first sea day, I picked up three for the week. The movie Eat, Pray Love was scheduled for Movies Under the Stars (MUTS) on one evening. After hunkering down with chairs, warm blankets and popcorn, the rain started and made the experience less than enjoyable. Having seen the movie a few months prior, I wasn't too disappointed. Couldn't get into watching MUTS during the day but if you are a football fan, there were a few games featured during the week.
Activities: In addition to the usual cruise activities, the entire ship was decorated, Christmas music was playing in the dining rooms. Many of the cabins doors were decorated by the guests. We brought along our Santa hats for beach and port pictures. We managed to get a few good shots which made our 2010 Christmas card.
Entertainment: Lisa Ball was our Cruise Director. There have been a few negative postings on Lisa. I think most of these comments are very unfair. Every staff person brings their own unique talents and personalities to their job. Passengers also vary from the very pleasant and some not so! I am certain there are no staff who go out of their way to antagonize guests however, I am certain the same cannot be said for more than a few passengers. In life you reap what you sow. There were the usual Princess Theatre productions, which for the first time, we didn't attend. We did see a portion of the Steve Sasso show in Explorers and caught Bert Stratton for a few minutes passing through Crooners one evening. The only evening we did sit through a show was for the Princess Pop Star Final in Club Fusion. Not sure why this happened but we are late diners and by the time dinner finished at 10 p.m. we were not in the mood for a show. We visited the Casino a few times to people watch and spent some time in the photo gallery and boutique shops.
Dining: We did the Anytime Dining for dinner but only used the dining room on three evenings. One of the things about anytime dining is the opportunity to share a table with fellow cruisers. We found this happened less on this cruise than any other cruise we were on. There were four of us and on two of the three evenings we were seated with one other couple at a table for eight or ten. Very pleasant experiences but as I noted earlier the dining rooms were not as busy as previous cruises. We did enjoy Sabatinis ($20) one evening and the Crown ($25pp) on another. Both are fabulous culinary experiences lasting two to three hours and well worth the extra charge. Reservations were made the first day we were aboard but I do not think we would have had a problem had we waited until later to make a reservation.
We only had one breakfast and did not have one lunch in the dining rooms unlike other cruises where this was mostly our choice. I have a coffee card so every morning my favourite destination was the International Cafe for a fresh brew at 7. I discovered they made a wonderful egg and cheese on a toasted crispy bun. They also had a small serving of oatmeal and great yogurt with fresh berries not to forget a big selection of pastries. This was a great way to start the day. A few mornings this was followed by a trip to Horizon Court for some fresh fruit. Don't miss the waffle station which is mid ship on Deck 15 which is also open for breakfast. One other dining experience that shouldn't be missed is the English-style pub lunch in Wheelhouse. Usually happens on a sea day and it is busy!!!! Compliments on the fish & chips and mushy peas. The International Cafe also has some great choices during the day for snacks or even lunch. The Princess Chicken Waldorf salad is memorable. The recipe has been shared on the Cruise Critic Princess boards several times and we made it for the first time for a New Years buffet this year. Who would miss having a gelato break at least once or twice - 3 scoops for $1.50.
The Ports: We missed Princess Cays due to wind. This had been our last stop in 2009 and was quite enjoyable but the sun was shining on deck and it meant starting a good book and enjoying the Terrace Pool.
A bonus was arriving three hours early in St. Maarten. There were two other ships behind us, the Oasis and Carnival so it was going to be a busy day. We went ashore at 8:30 a.m., waited for a few shops to open before getting our rental car to explore the Island. We appeared to be ahead of the traffic. Went up to the French part of the Island and found Waikiki Beach for an hour walk before finding another spot on a nearby beach for lunch with the locals. Started driving back to Philipsburg and as we approached Marigot we were faced with unbelievable traffic. While we managed to keep moving the traffic in the opposite direction was gridlock!!!! So rather than stop and enjoy Marigot we carried on toward Philipsburg and did some more shopping. Our friends kept the car for a few extra hours and headed out to watch the planes land at the airport which borders the beach. All in all, it would have cost us more that $50 (cost of car rental) to have done a four hour tour.
In St. Thomas we docked at Crown Bay (a few miles outside town). We were off the ship at 8:30 so we decided to find a last minute tour group and explore the Island sights for a few hours. We had been to St. Thomas twice before so we were not too disappointed in not being able to hear our guides commentary. We did see the spectacular hilltop views and vistas spending an hour at the Home of the Banana Daiquiri. The admission of $2 or $3 dollars was worth it for pictures and to see the gardens. Our driver dropped us off at the Best Western Emerald Resort for an hour of beachtime and agreed to come back for us. We explored some of the shops near the ship before getting back aboard. The next time we are in St. Thomas I hope we dock at the newer dock closer to the downtown. St. Maarten and St. Thomas offer great shopping opportunities for jewellery and watches.
Our last island was Grand Turk. We had never been here before but had simply planned a beach day. We had read about Jack's Shack so this was our destination. We walked through the shops and Margaritaville (Carnival had docked a few hours before us and the party was already started). Instead of walking along the beach to Jack's we took the road but eventually found our way. Met Jack and his daughter, had our complimentary rum and enjoyed the beach in full view of our ship for a few hours. Our ship wasn't leaving until six so we visited a few of the shops and then explored the new beach area being developed on the other side. By the time we were ready to get back aboard the partly cloudy sky made for a beautiful sunset.
Final Day(s): The last day was another sea day and the sea was a bit rough. Just enjoyed some deck sunshine, reading and dining. Late afternoon packing, selecting some photos, final dining night for some early Christmas Tom Turkey and a pleasant end to another Princess Cruise.
Disembarkation: Our disembarkation lounge was in the Casino. We waited about twenty minutes before being called. Very smoothly orchestrated and before we knew it we had our suitcases, were through Customs and on our way to the Lauderdale Airport. We arrived at 10 a.m. but our flight didn't leave until 2:00 p.m. We were flying through Philadelphia again and unlike those going through New York, D.C. and the mid west our flights were on time. Had another four hour wait in Philadelphia but made our scheduled flight to Halifax in the rain for a green Christmas.
Summary: Our next cruise on Princess will be on the Star from Venice to Rome in June and we will be platinum cruisers. While onboard, we bought 2 Future Cruise Credits to sail on Princess again. Will it be Alaska, Hawaii, Europe, South America....so many places to escape completely.