We flew into Fort Lauderdale the night before and stayed at the Embassy Suites 17th Street. The hotel is a little dated, but was clean and within walking distance of several shops and restaurants. A free breakfast buffet was included. Beware - the there is no free shuttle service for this hotel. The cab from the airport and shuttle fees to the ship cost us a total of $35 +tips. There are other less expensive options with free shuttle service to choose from in the area.
Embarkation was fairly quick. We arrived around 11:30am and were in our cabin before 12:30. Our luggage arrived well before dinner.
We had an aft balcony cabin on the Caribe deck. The balcony on this deck is a little bigger than the other decks, and is partially covered for some privacy. The closet area is large and includes a small safe. Bathroom was small (as expected), but was manageable. Our only complaint was that the bed was extremely hard. It felt like we were sleeping on a table. Our room steward Jojo put a foam topper on the bed for us which helped a little. We would recommend that Princess consider replacing mattresses with more comfortable ones, or have thicker foam toppers readily available. Jojo was very friendly, and did a wonderful job keeping our room clean and stocked with fresh towels and toiletries all week.
We wanted a low-key, relaxing vacation - rock climbing and zip lines were not what we were looking for, so the Princess cruise line was perfect for us. The Ruby Princess is a beautiful ship which contrary to some other reviews, we found to be very clean and well-maintained. The piazza area is a little choppy with staircases, but again, it was manageable. We especially enjoyed the Explorers Lounge for the comedy shows and Club Fusion for some of the game shows. A couple of smoke-free nights were offered in the casino which was great. Most of our time was spent on the Lido deck at either the Neptune's Reef pool (where there were pool games and a band) or the Calypso pool which showed some great movies on M.U.T.S. Although we didn't participate in the daily shipboard activities, there were plenty of them listed in the Princess Patter for people to find something to do if they didn't want to enjoy the sun. We only saw one stage show in the Princess Theater. It wasn't bad, but having been on several Princess cruises in the past, there really wasn't anything unique. The comedian on the 1st night was the same person we saw on a Princess cruise we took last year, so we had already heard many of his jokes. It would be nice if Princess would take note of the shows being offered on some of the other cruise lines newer ships, and consider updating their entertainment.
We chose Anytime Dining which was great. We always chose to dine with other people so we never had to wait for a table. This was a nice way to meet new, interesting people every night so the conversation was always fresh and fun at each dinner. There were so many dining options that we were never hungry. If we didn't like what was offered in the buffet areas, there was always pizza and burgers or some great options at the International Cafe. People who have complained about the food must be extremely picky. Of course you aren't going to like everything, but there are so many options you shouldn't be unhappy all the time.
We went kayaking on Princess Cays which was a lot of fun. In St. Maarten we did the Orient Beach Break w/Lunch. The excursion included a little tour on an air-conditioned bus, lounge chairs on the beach, lunch, and some rum punch. The beach was beautiful; it was a great way to spend the afternoon. We did the Turtle Cove Sail and Snorkel in St. Thomas, and even though it rained, we had a blast! There were 50 of us + 4 crew members on a catamaran to Buck Island. While snorkeling we saw lots of big sea turtles, stingrays, and other colorful fish. The ride back was so much fun with music playing and rum punch flowing freely. We would definitely do this excursion again. Margaritaville in Grand Turk was fun, but crowded so we didn't stay long.
Disembarkation was fast and organized. We met in our assigned spot at 6:45am and after finding our luggage and going through customs, were on a bus to the airport by 7:15.
Overall this was a wonderful trip. There was a wide variety of people, both young and old, having a good time. The majority of the staff was friendly and helpful. The only rude people we encountered were some of the other passengers, but even they were few and far between. The cruise director Sam and her staff were entertaining and very visible running various games and shows. We will definitely cruise with Princess again, and would have no problem recommending the Ruby Princess.