We arrived a day early and stayed at the Hilton Garden Inn in Dania Beach. It was a nice, clean hotel that was easy to access from the airport and an easy trip to the cruise port.
We arrived at the terminal at 11:30 via cab and had our bags whisked away by the porters before we were even out of the cab. The security screening had no wait and we were sitting in our chairs with the rest of group 1 within minutes. A few minutes after noon, they began letting the priority boarders into the check in lines and then very quickly our group was called. There initially was only one lane open for Dolphin deck, which caused a bottleneck, but then several more lanes opened and we were walking up the gangway and having our cards scanned. We easily located our cabin and were standing on the balcony by 12:30.
We were assigned cabin D523 an AA category minisuite after booking an AE GTY. We were very pleased with the assignment. The location was very good as it was midship, but on the aft side, so it was very close to the mid-ship elevators while also not being that long a walk to the aft elevators. We found the space to be generous and thee overall layout to be excellent. The bathroom was decent-sized with a roomy tub and plenty of room for all of our toiletries. The closet and clothes cabinet was outstanding, with plenty of room for our hanging and folded clothes (and we are notorious heavy packers). The bedroom area was ample with plenty of room to move around the large bed and bedside tables, which also had a couple of drawers and a shelf for storage. The desk area was sufficient for all of our gadgets, including our laptop computer. The bedroom flat-screen TV was mounted in the top of the bar unit, which included a small refrigerator tucked away. Moving further into the cabin was the sitting area, which we found quite spacious. It easily accommodated a full-size sofa, an armchair and a cocktail table. There was another TV mounted above the additional storage unit that was the backside of the sleeping area unit. The flow was quite nice and there was ample lighting specific to each area that could be controlled separately. Moving beyond the sitting area was the balcony. The balcony size was sufficient and accommodated two chairs, two reclinable loungers and a cocktail table. While there is a great deal of debate over the dolphin deck balconies due to the fact that they are "open" in that they are staggered out, allowing those with balconies above to be able to look in, we really enjoyed the open balcony. On the transatlantic crossing, we used our balcony almost every day. Being on the starboard side, we had nearly full sunshine the entire day. Also, when I did glance up at balconies above, when I did see others on their balcony, they were gazing out at the ocean, not down at me. I would book another Dolphin deck balcony in a second. We experienced very little hallway noise and no noise from the cabins on either side unless we were both out on the balcony at the same time. The only downside that we experienced was, on the crossing segment of the sailing, when there was ship rolling from higher winds and seas, we heard a grinding/creaking noise from underneath our cabin. From our walks on the Promenade deck and a quick glance up, we realized that the tenders and survival boats were suspended below the Dolphin deck, beside the Emerald deck and overhanging the walking area of the Promenade deck. As the ship rolled, the tender under our cabin would move within the mechanism that held it suspended above the promenade deck, which caused the grinding/creaking. Fortunately, after the first tender port, when the tender below us was put back in place, the noise was no longer present. Our steward was Marlon, who was from the Philippines. He was a great steward who quickly came to know our schedule and comings and goings. He was friendly and engaging, while at the same time was never intrusive. The room was always in great shape. Overall, we very much enjoyed our cabin and the service.
We did anytime dining and most evening ate dinner in the Michelangelo dining room. We thoroughly enjoyed the staff, including our excellent host, the Ruby's Assistant Maitre'd Godwin, as well as the head waiter Karoly. The first evening, we thoroughly enjoyed our waitstaff, Waiter Luisito and Assistant Waiter Marcos, so much so that we requested and were granted a standing 8:00 reservation for the same table in their section each evening. We found the dining room to be elegant and enjoyable, with a nice scope and scale which was not too big or overwhelming. The service was superb, a nice blend of formal and warm. We found the food to be very good. Our favorite was the strip steak with peppercorn sauce served on the last night. It came out precisely as ordered. We also enjoyed the prime rib both nights it was served and enjoyed many of the different sauces and preparations of various dishes. Several of the appetizers, including the crab cakes and vegetable egg rolls were very good.
We ate at the Horizon buffet and Caribe Cafe several times for breakfast and lunch and once for dinner and found both the selection and quality to be good. In particular, the Asian, Mexican and pasta buffet themed lunches were good. The carving station meats were also good. Only once did we have difficulty finding a table.
We got pizza from the pizza counter on the Lido several times and really enjoyed it. We also got burgers from the trident grill several times and found them to be very tasty.
A number of mornings I fetched coffee from the coffee bar and pastry and breakfast sandwiches from the International Cafe that we then enjoyed in our cabin or out on the balcony. I really enjoyed the international cafe. One of the baristas was a bit surly, but the others were quite nice.
We ordered room service pizza, which was hot and fresh upon arrival. The wait time on the phone to order was a bit long.
We did the pub lunch in the Wheelhouse bar one sea day and the fish was excellent.
We didn't attend any of the production shows in the Princess Theater. We intended to, but never seemed to work them into our evening schedules.
We did attend several performances in the Explorers Lounge. We saw the first comedian on board, Troy Thurdgill and found him very funny and entertaining. We also saw the comedian/ventriloquist, Michael Harrison. We found his performance fine, but not as good as the first comedian. We also saw the house band, unison, play in the Explorers Lounge and thought they were quite good, with a good variety and a good sound.
We spent some time in Crooners. On our prior cruise we really enjoyed the entertainer in Crooners and it was packed every night. We enjoyed Paul Scarto quite a bit less and by the lower attendance, I suspect others agreed. He was just okay. A decent pianist and okay vocalist, but not a great entertainer. We were a bit disappointed.
We went to Adagio a couple of nights and found the pianist, Ron Coleman, to be good. Unfortunately there was almost no one in Adagio the times we visited, which is unfortunate because it is a lovely venue in that it is a nice size with lovely decor.
We also visited skywalkers several times. Once was during the day for CC meet and greet. The view is absolutely stunning and it's a huge space. We attended several evenings and it was hit or miss. A couple of times there were people dancing, but other visits it was nearly deserted. Several evenings they advertised in the patter as having different genres of music such as Motown or classic rock and roll. We found that the DJ would play the specific genre for an hour and lots of people would be on the dance floor, then as soon as the hour was up, the DJ would totally change the music and the dance floor and Skywalkers would empty out.
We went to club fusion for the Motown music party. There were quite a few in attendance and more people coming in, but at the end of the hour, they then switched over to a game show program of some sort.
We went to the Wheelhouse bar several times and they had pre and post dinner music with the orphea quartet. They were a lovely group, with excellent musicians and vocals. Most visits we saw number of couples enjoying ballroom dancing to their music.
We made a number of visits to the casino. The casino liked our money very much. I personally have never had such a bad run of roulette on any ship or any land-based casino and my husband fared on slightly better than I while playing video poker. I heard a number of people around the ship comment that the casino had not been kind to them in the winnings department. There were ample table games and slot machines and it was a very pleasant casino with a nice bar, but there were very few video poker machines, only three dollar machines and three quarter machines on the casino floor and a few machines up on the bar. Given that video poker has become quite popular, we were surprised at the low number of machines.
We also caught a few of the performances in the piazza, including the professional ballroom dancers and the pianist, violinist and accordionist. All were good.
We attended the Captain's welcome reception and champagne waterfall, which was a nice time. It's always so lovey to see everyone in formal ware. On this cruise, many passengers, including us, were in tuxedos for the men and full length gowns for the women. We also attended the farewell reception, which was nicely done, with dancing in the piazza following the reception. There were, however, a few individuals in shorts and ballcaps that seemed intent on being in the piazza during the formal events. We didn't see any Princess staff or crew engage them about their attire, which we found frustrating and a bit detracting from the festivities. We loved all of the opportunities to get formal photographs done and we purchased quite a few photos.
Overall, we enjoyed the entertainment, activities and venues. Our only complaint was that the entertainment tended to be run in short segments. While this might make sense for daytime activities, for things like speakers, game shows and bingo, it doesn't really make sense for nighttime activities, where people want to settle in to some music and not have it stop after 45 minutes for a game show. The only other issue we had was that different bars on board charged different prices for the same drink. I came to enjoy the Sangria but found that it was $5.95 in the Wheelhouse bar and $6.95 in Skywalkers. On a ship all run by one cruise line, I would expect that the same drink is the same price in all of the bars. It's not like land-based bars, where there are all different owners charging whatever price they wish.
Ports and excursions:
Our first port was Funchal on the island of Madiera Portugal. Land was nice to see after so many sea days and the Island is quite beautiful with all of the white stucco and red tile roofs up against the hilly green landscape. We were arriving on the day of their annual flower festival, which is a big celebration for the locals. We took a quick bus arranged by Princess up to a bus depot in town to save on the walk up the steep hill. The streets were packed with locals. We elected to just walk around and enjoy the town rather than do any organized tours. The town looked quite nice, however almost everything was closed including the shops and many of the cafes, though a few cafes and bakery counters were open. We were able to secure a spot on the parade route for the flower festival that wasn't quite so crowded and we enjoyed the experience of watching the floats and dancers along with the locals. We used the bus to go back to the ship.
After a sea day following the stop in Madiera, we arrived at the port of Cadiz, which is the Port for Seville and the Andalusian province of Spain. The trip into Seville would have taken nearly 2 hours each way, so we elected to do a close tour. We boarded a bus that took us to Jerez, an area known for its many sherry bodegas. We toured the Gonzalez Byass winery, which was impeccably maintained and absolutely beautiful. While we did not like the taste of the sherries that we sampled, the winery was a terrific tour. The same tour also included a trip to the Royal Anadlusian Equestrian Academy where the famous dancing Spanish horses are bred and trained. This was a beautiful facility and we were able to see some training going on in the ring and also had the privilege of seeing the formal demonstration that is held twice a week. The horses and their handlers performed beautifully and it is amazing what those gorgeous horses can do. We thoroughly enjoyed the show. We then boarded the bus back to Cadiz. We had an hour or so to walk around Cadiz, though it was siesta time, which means the local merchants close up most of the shops. We did get to see the Holy and Apostolic Cathedral of Cadiz, which was beautiful, having been begun in 1722 but not fully completed until 1838. We walked around Cadiz a bit, then re-boarded the ship.
After another sea day following the stop at Cadiz, we arrived at Alghero on the island of Sardinia. Here we elected to walk around the town on our own rather than do any organized tours. This was a tender port and many passengers seemed to be angry about the tender process, which required collecting a ticket from the ship staff then waiting for the number to be called before going down to the tenders. Of course all of the organized tours and priority passengers got to tender first, so it took a while for the numbered groups to go. I don't know as I've ever seen adults behave so poorly. We witnessed people berating and yelling at the staff. We took our tickets and went to the Horizon Court to enjoy a leisurely breakfast while awaiting our tender group to be called. Once we were called, it was a quick and easy tender to land. Alghero is a lovely little seaside village with many shops and outdoor cafes. We walked along the fortification walls and took in the beauty of the town and the lovely ocean views. They have a jewelry specialty, which is a beautiful red coral. We picked up several pieces of jewelry as gifts for a good price. We also visited the local cathedral, which was pretty. We enjoyed a delicious pizza and their local beer at a nice little outdoor cafe before returning to the tenders to return to the ship.
Our next port was Civitavecchia, the port for Rome. We'd booked the connoisseur tour for Rome to have a smaller group. We were off the boat early and onto a full-sized motor coach for the 90 minute drive to Rome. The itinerary for the tour was heavy, with planned trips to Vatican City for the Sistine Chapel and St. Peter's Basilica, the Colosseum and the Trevi Fountain. The tour advertised itself as including extensive walking in indicated participants should be physically fit. This would come into play as the day went on. We had very nice weather, up into the 80's by the afternoon, though no humidity. We picked up our local tour guide, Valentina, in the city. She was born, raised and still lived in Rome and was very fluent in English. We all had headsets so she could give us commentary about the sites as we went. We started at the Colosseum, which was absolutely awe-inspiring. It is truly a wonder given that it has existed for 2000 years. We then walked back to our motor coach and were off to visit the Trevi fountain, that is, after we had to take a rest break for some of the other passengers on a walk of only a handful of blocks. Here we had a brief photo op. It was very crowded at the Trevi and we really only managed to throw a coin and take a few photos before we had to leave for lunch. The walk to lunch took a very long time. What should have taken only 20 minutes took 45 minutes because we had to go at such a slow pace due to some of the other passengers. We had a terrific lunch at a hotel in a small private dining room, which included champagne and wine followed by a past course and a wonderful chicken entree and then followed by a nice light desert. We then boarded our motor coach for Vatican City. Upon getting out at Vatican City, there was one passenger who was contemplating not continuing because he was tired and didn't know if he could do the rest of the walking. However, he did decide to continue on. We entered the Vatican Museums where our tickets were pre-arranged and were brought right through the entrance. Our guide gave us an overview of the Sistine Chapel and we began our walk through the museums, where we saw so many works of art, from frescos to guided and painted ceilings to statuary to tapestries. The volume and beauty of the art is truly amazing. It was very crowded and got to be a bit of a challenge as the security tried to crowd-control the flow into the Chapel. We were directed that no photography or talking was allowed in the Chapel and then made our way in. The works by Michelangelo were amazing. The brilliance of the color and beauty of the figures was awesome. Unfortunately, there was lots of talking and people taking photos. We then left the Chapel and walked over to St. Peter's Basilica. We had some time and were allowed to take photos. The sheet size, scale and scope of the basilica are almost unimaginable. The beautiful domes had afternoon light shining through and the main altar gleamed. We really enjoyed the Basilica. We then exited the Basilica and walked through St. Peter's Square where we got to see members of the Swiss Guard in their bright striped uniforms and we also saw the building that houses the Papal apartments. We then had only a few minutes to shop in the Vatican gift shop before boarding our bus and heading back to the ship. We were a bit unhappy with Princess that they didn't better enforce the requirement to be physically fit and capable of extensive walking that had been included in the tour description. We felt like this took our time (those of us who could meet the requirements) and limited the time we had at the sites and for things like shopping in the gift shop, because we'd been delayed by those who could not keep up. We were the next to last tour bus to get back to the ship and were past the "all aboard" time.
Our next port was Livorno, the port for Florence, Pisa and Tuscany. Here we again chose the Connoisseur tour for Florence & Pisa. We were early off the ship and boarded our smaller motor coach. Our Tour guide Ignazio was aboard and we again had headsets so we could hear his commentary. We drove the nearly 90 minutes to Florence and saw some of the amazingly beautiful Tuscan countryside, with villas and vineyards. Our first stop was at the Accademia to see the David. It was a beautiful statue and our tour guide shared many interesting pieces of information about the statue and Michelangelo. We the toured the area around the Cathedral of Santa Maria and our tour guide shared the history of the design and building of the Duomo. We then toured the area around the Cathedral seeing beautiful statuary, several tower houses, outdoor cafes and farmer's markets and the general life of Florence. We walked to the Ponte Vecchio crossing the Arno River and then had time on our own in the lovely shopping district known for gold jewelry, fine leather goods and hand-painted Tuscan pottery and ceramic ware. We then proceeded to the Uffizi museum where there was an unfortunate delay due to issues with the museum's screening equipment, which caused us to be running about 40 minutes late. In the Uffizi we saw a number of famous pieces of art including Botticelli's The Birth of Venus. We then dashed to our bus, which we boarded to for a short ride to the Villa Massa for wonderful lunch in the rolling Tuscan hills along a river. The lunch was served with a wonderful red wine and was multi-course with a very good risotto. The villa was stunning. We then boarded the bus and headed to Pisa. Unfortunately, as with the previous day, although the tour information had again indicated that the tour involved extensive walking and required passengers to be physically fit, we again had passengers who could not keep up and delayed the group and again, Princess did nothing to stop this from occurring. As a result of delays earlier in the day, we only had about 20 minutes at Pisa in which to see the tower and baptistery from the outside only, take pictures, and visit the gift shop. We then returned to our bus and to the ship. We were the last tour to arrive and were after the "all aboard" time.
Our next stop was Monaco/Monte Carlo, which was a tender port. We had pre-booked a ship tour of old Monaco, the Cathedral and the Palace. We were one of the first groups to a tender and met our tour guide. It was very early and the city was very quiet. It was a walking tour after taking a short bus ride up to the old city and our tour guide shared lots of interesting information about the principality and its history and set-up. We toured the Cathedral, where we got to see Princess Grace's crypt. We then strolled around the lovely narrow streets and up to the palace. We took the tour of the palace, which was a self-paced prerecorded narrative tour and very interesting and well done. We also had time on our own for shopping and to enjoy the local cafes, so we had a snack and sampled the locally brewed beer, which was very tasty. We also got to see the changing of the guard outside of the palace, which was a quick procedure done every hour. The old city is just beautiful and is impeccably maintained. The views of the harbor from the old city are spectacular. It started to rain , so we boarded the bus to take us to the tenders. The water had become very choppy and it was very windy, so the tender back to the ship was quite rough, but the crew managed it as well as they could and we all made it back safely. When it was time to sail away, the views of Monaco and the coast of France were absolutely stunning.
We then sailed one last night, enjoying the Ruby fully and in the morning were in Barcelona. We had accepted the ship's transfer to the Hotel (even though we hadn't booked the hotel through Princess), so we didn't have to disembark until 10:00. We vacated our room at 8:00 and said goodbye to our Steward. We then went to the Horizon for a leisurely breakfast, taking in the last few precious moments onboard, then made our way to the meeting point and eventually disembarked and headed to our transfer motor coach. Disembarkation was a breeze. We'd put our packed bags out the night before and saw the porter who picked them up. We briefly touched our bags at the terminal and then they were loaded onto trucks, transported to our hotel and arrived in our room.
We spent an overnight in Barcelona touring on our own. It was a very friendly city and the areas around Las Ramblas were very easy to navigate. We'd been concrned about the stories we'd heard of pick-pockets, but we had no issues. Barcelona is a really pretty city.
We very much enjoyed our cruise and the Ruby. We especially loved the service and engagement from all the staff and crew, from our room steward to the buffet attendants to the waiters to the Captain and senior staff, who attended our Meet & Greet, all were very friendly and eager to help. We also found the ship to easy to navigate. We found the public areas, for a ship of its size, to be very intimate in feel, with a nice scope and coziness. Several of the lounges, such as the Wheelhouse and Adagio, are beautifully done. We enjoyed it so much that we're already planning our next transatlantic on the Grand next year.