This was my 7th cruise. My motto is "the newer, the bigger, the better" and some of my previous ships include RCCL's Freedom of the Seas, Cunard's Queen Mary 2, Holland America's Eurodam , Celebrity's Equinox and NCL's Epic. I've wanted to try Ruby Princess since it hit the seas in 2008 and I was happy to finally get the chance.
This particular cruise sails Venice-Barcelona and Barcelona-Venice all Summer long with some amazing ports in between. We decided to do the Venice-Barcelona cruise because, as we are from Canada, getting to and from Venice and their port is a little more complicated than getting to and from Barcelona and their port so we thought we'd deal with the challenging stuff at the beginning rather than the end of our cruise. Also, we wondered if spending a night on the ship in Venice when the cruise was essentially over might be a wee bit anti-climactic. In hindsight, although we don't regret our decision, I imagine sailing into the Venice harbour would probably be more breathtaking than sailing out of it!
Embarkation was a breeze - it was efficient and quick. You are allowed to go straight to your cabin upon boarding. While Princess says embarkation begins at 1 PM I noted many people on board before then and, in fact, the Princess Patter (i.e. the daily schedule that's delivered to your stateroom every evening) had activities starting as early as 11 AM. Those boarding in Venice, however, should take note that it is not entirely clear how to get to the port. For those arriving directly from the airport, a taxi can be taken and for those arriving directly from the train station, you need only walk a short distance. For those who spend a day or so in Venice before the cruise, it can be tricky. I know now, however, that you have only 2 options. One option is take a public water taxi and get off at the port or train station and simply walk to the People Mover. However, if walking over cobblestone roads and getting in and out of crowded boats with your luggage is a challenge for you, the second option is to hire a private water taxi that will take you right to the ship - while much more relaxing, this method is also pricey at about 60 to 80 Euros (it'd be great for a group of people as you could share the cost). Princess does have a shuttle that goes between St. Mark's Square and the ship (it's $15 return) but this is ONLY for those who have already boarded - you can't use this to get to the ship to embark with your luggage...although many try!
The ship itself is just shy of 3 years old but is impeccably maintained and very clean. It still looks new. Ruby will not win any beauty contests as, with the exception of the dramatic piazza which spans several decks, the dEcor is rather bland...especially the pastel greens in the staterooms. The 3 dining rooms are all single-floored so lack the spiral staircases and grand chandeliers. However, it is perhaps the most functional ship I have ever been on. There is ample deck space (never a problem getting a chair) and 5 large swimming pools (6 if you count the 1 for the staff). The deck is very exposed and you can walk all around the ship on several levels. If you wish you can go right to the nose of the ship and pretend you're Leonardo DiCaprio and be The King of the World! In the rear, open space spans several decks...which is awesome for sailaways.
The passengers on this cruise were of all ages but were mostly older couples. This may not be typical of Princess cruises, however, as a bartender told me that, in the Summer, they often had close to 1,000 kids on board. There were only a handful of kids on this particular cruise.
We had a mini-suite and it was plenty big with loads of storage space. The bathroom was also large and private.
The food was excellent but there is so much of it that you just can't get hungry enough to eat as much as you'd like. Aside from the main dining rooms there's the cafeteria-like Horizon Court as well as the grill and pizzeria on deck. There are 2 specialty restaurants, Sabatini's (Italian) and the Crown Grill (beef) - we tried both and enjoyed them. We did find that the menu in the main dining rooms did lack imagination on some nights so it was rare that you were torn choosing between many options...it was actually the opposite and, on several nights, we simply selected from the side of the menu that offered the traditional standbys that were available every night (pasta, beef, etc.). This may have been because we are not fish lovers...if you like fish, you will be in heaven as there are lots of fish choices every night. The service was always great in the dining rooms with the wait staff always eager to please. I did buy an Ultimate Kids Pack that allowed unlimited sodas, juices and smoothies all cruise long. I shared this with my travelling companion and the staff didn't seem to mind. Contrary to what others have said, I ordered countless Cokes, juices and smoothies and never once did it seem like an inconvenience to anyone. Ruby offers traditional or "any time" dining. My guess is that about two-thirds of the ship opted for the latter. Again, contrary to what others have said, we never had trouble getting a table for two - we usually were escorted immediately to a table or, at most, had to wait only a few minutes.
Regarding entertainment, Princess is yet to get into the modern age and do things like NCL with the Blue Man Group or RCCL with Broadway shows. The guest entertainers on this cruise were, as Simon Cowell used to say on American Idol, "very cruise ship". However, the Ruby Princess "singers and dancers" were absolutely spectacular (and easy on the eyes too!) and the 3 shows they did were amazing. I only wish they could have entertained every night! Note that the theatre only seats 850 so, for some shows, you need to arrive early to get a seat.
The service on Ruby is very good - on par with NCL and RCCL but perhaps not quite as sophisticated as HAL or Celebrity. With the exception of a handful of employees who were somewhat indifferent, the vast majority can't do enough for you. Princess is a little light on "extras", however - you have to ask for bathrobes and beach towels, there are no cold drinks at the gangway when you return from a long day ashore, etc.. In addition, "accuracy" is not their strong point - pre-ordered flowers were not delivered, laundry was mixed up with other passengers, room service order was wrong 3 out of 5 times, white wine was served in the Crown Grill when we ordered white, USD-CAD currency conversion was used when we clearly said we didn't want it, etc., etc.. HOWEVER, none of these were "deal-breakers" and the staff always happily corrected any errors. Our cabin steward was nice and did a good job but was not a star by any means.
I had heard that Princess was #1 in shore excursions and they did not disappoint. While most cruise lines excel in this area, Princess was exceptionally good. The ports on this cruise were outstanding (kudos to whoever designed this itinerary) and there were numerous options for excursions at every port. The tours I took (5 of them) all ran as per schedule and it was always clear where you were supposed to be and when. The guides were all great and had good knowledge and senses of humour.
Like all ships, Ruby offers numerous opportunities to get your photo taken. While pricey, the quality is excellent. If you buy a number of photos you can get some for free.
Finally, for the true ship-lover, Princess offers the Ultimate Ship Tour. They only take the first 12 to sign up and the tour is done on a sea day. You get to see backstage at the theatre, the engine control room, the kitchen, the medical clinic (including the morgue!), the laundry room, the anchor room, the photo shop, the printing room and the smoke stacks. The tour concludes with a photo-op and glass of champagne with the Captain on the bridge. At $150 it is expensive but it lasts 3 hours and is very interesting. You also end the tour with numerous professional photos, a bathrobe (which sells for $90 in the gift shop), a chef's coat and a pad of paper with your name on it!
In the end, we had a wonderful time. I would not hesitate to cruise with Princess in the future or to recommend Ruby to anyone. I hope you found this review helpful.