As parents, my DH and I have recognized that time was passing by so quickly when our beautiful 15 year old twin daughters where standing in line for their driver's permits 4 months ago. We were in a complete dilemma as to how to spend the summer. A little more background, we are a avid travelers both born with wanderlust in our genes. In October, my DH and I spent 2 weeks exploring China on our own. As for our kids, they have traveled to the Middle East, London, the Caribbean and the US extensively. This cruise was to be a great introduction for them, an opportunity for them to see a few highlights of each location and for us, to share their excitement.
We booked the Ruby Princess, departure July 27 out of Barcelona with stops in Monte Carlo, Florence, Rome, Naples, @ sea, Mykonos, Istanbul, Athens, Kusadasi (Ephesus), @ sea and ending in the magical city of Venice, solely because of the itinerary. My expectations for the ship, meals, entertainment and accommodations were not very high as I really didn't care too much about those elements. We booked the trip through an on line Travel Agency about 2 months prior to the trip after ensuring we got flights that worked well for us (out the Miami area) in both timing and price. I would not use the Travel Agency again as they did not provide information in a prompt and adequate manner. Our flights, on paper, looked great but US Airways really let us down (that is a WHOLE other review!).
We booked 2 guarantee obstructed cabins and that was exactly what we got, rooms E517 and E519 which were assigned within 2 weeks of us booking. Our flights, Miami to Philadelphia, and Philadelphia to Barcelona with return on Vueling from Venice to Barcelona, Barcelona to Philadelphia and then back to Miami, were done in that we had a day before the cruise and a full day after to see more of Venice.
Our flights were terrible, missing our connection in Philadelphia by less than 10 minutes and they sent us to Frankfort and then onto Barcelona. We met up with fellow cruisers in Philadelphia which made out trip easier as we worked together to find an earlier option to Barcelona. We are so ever grateful for their companionship and friendship.
In Barcelona, we took a taxi with 4 large suitcases and 4 carry-ons for 35 euros to the Onix Liceo off of La Ramblas. It was a very quick trip from the airport and although we had lost the majority of the day (3:30pm vs 8am), we dropped our luggage at the hotel and spent the late afternoon exploring the La Ramblas area. We were exhausted but happy to be out of the airport.
The next day, the hotel held our luggage while we went to La Sagrada Familia and Casa Mila. From there we went back to the Hotel and within a short walk, we were at the Port Shuttle from the Colombus statue. The wait for the shuttle was very long, more than 35 minutes but finally, the ship was within sight. Check in was fast, and we were on board within minutes.
We found our rooms easily and were very happy with the location. Located on the Emerald deck, deck 8, we were right in the middle of the ship, very stable and very convenient. We met our Steward, Antonio, who within an hour had transformed our rooms into the configuration we wanted, twins in one room and a king in the other (with a mattress topper), bathrobes in the rooms, refrigerators cleaned out, ice buckets filled and a couple of extra towels. During that transition we got extra key cards so that we could have the girls with their own cards and ours done as well. We also grabbed late lunch at the Horizon Buffet. Lunch was lovely with a massive salad bar option. The kids got the unlimited soda/smoothie option sticker for their card right at the Buffet. They got nice To-Go cup and twisty straw. The To-Go mug was great for my DH's coffee in the morning. We explored the ship and although very nice, it appeared to us very basic and generic. After our trips on Royal Caribbean's amazing ships, we understood that this ship was transportation to amazing ports and not the destination, as it was on our Caribbean holidays. Nevertheless, it is a lovely ship, in excellent condition but with very small gathering spots. We signed our kids into the Teen Center and found out there were 363 kids between the ages of 13-17, PERFECT!!! The Teen Center was well stocked with the requisite video monitors and games. The staff was excellent, enthusiastic and made sure the kids were happy at all time. We are more than impressed with them.
We continued to tour the ship. We LOVED the MUTS. We did not find it too loud, as a matter of fact on more than one occasion we found ourselves sitting out there conversing with new friends. They showed current film and music concerts. In the evenings, they covered the chairs with special towels, handed out blankets and popped popcorn. It is a wonderful option. We loved the multi-level viewing. We went deck by deck exploring the ship.
We headed back to our cabins and were very pleased to see that our luggage was already in the rooms. I unpacked and then we headed up on deck for the sailaway. A few notes about our room. These 2 rooms have boats in front of the windows and are totally obstructed. The room itself is the smallest room we have ever sailed in but it was adequate. There is a lot of closet space (Antonio also brought us more hangers), drawers. We brought our own outlet strip and it was needed for our camera recharging and other items. We also could easily connect our computer laptop and dvd player to the tv for our own movie night. The bathroom is very small. The room was very quiet and very stable.
We did the Anytime Dining and LOVED it!! With such a heavy itinerary, we loved having the option of dining when we wanted. We never had to wait for a table as we always said we were willing to share a table. We loved meeting new people, sharing experiences and getting hints for the next stops. It is one our favorite parts of sailing. We dressed for dinner for those evenings. We did not do formal tuxedos or gowns (although about 30% of the men wore black tie, we wore cocktail dresses and my husband, jacket and tie for the 2 formal nights. The rest of the evenings, I wore silk tops with a black skirt and he always wore a button down shirt in the dining room. No one wore shorts or tshirts. When we wanted a less dressy night, it was up to the Buffet for us. Two of the nights that food was poor, the rest of the time, it was very good. Desserts were fantastic, as was the service and presentations. We never felt rushed.
The only part of the cruise that I felt that the ship needed real work was the Entertainment department. The shows, the comedians were so bad it was if they had created the shows with the most elderly audience in mind. The exception was the new "Dream " show. It was cleverly staged and performed. We were very disappointed in the shows. The art auctions were the same as every other ship. We were hoping for some real different educational experiences on board (glass blowing, art education, history lectures etc). Nothing like that. Loved Zumba classes! They were very well attended and were really fun! Great job Princess - we had people from 8-80 in the class and everyone was having fun. We checked out the Sanctuary but it was not really our thing. The Fitness area was really nice, had good equipment and we used it a couple of times.
One area where we had a problem is with the Princess Tour desk. There was a tall young blonde representative there who had a really bad attitude, never willing to listen and just trying to upsell everything, there always is one person that will get under your skin and she was it for me. With the taxi drivers in Athens on strike, I wanted to figure out what other options would be good for our family. She interrupted me so many times, I requested someone else help me. The gentleman was great, got me on the perfect tour for us and as well , got me onto an Istanbul combo tour and DIY option that also worked great for us. I had 2 encounters with this woman and they were both the same. I wasn't the only one having an issue with her.
The Sailaway was a letdown only because the Entertainment staff was so busy doing a raffle giveaway that they didn't notice that we had been moving more than 10 minutes - very anti climatic.
The addition of a Tour Guide named Hutch was great. He gave us hints and directions of each port the day before each day. He was very informative and enjoyed his slides and presentation every day. They show it on the tv. Speaking of tv, programming was very good, there was something to watch almost all the time.
The final stop into Venice was breathtaking with the sail into the city of Venice. The entire ship is up on deck and it is a party. Music is souring as we entered the port. Water taxi coupons are given to you in your cabin at the cost of $15 pp for the first day. You may return them, as we did and arrange your own transportation. We choose to use the vaporetti option for 36 hours for our 2 days in Venice. The People Mover at the port made departure very easy. We took our luggage off the ship ourselves and stored it at the Piazzale Roma and arranged for the ATVO express bus to the airport ourselves with ease.
Many thanks to our Florida fellow sailors and to Rick Steve for the best Med Cruise tour book ever. Our Floridian friends were the gift of the trip providing companionship, comradery, guidance, comfort and a great time. Can't wait till the next cruise!