Having received a wealth of valuable info from Cruise Critic, I felt the need to provide my thoughts about the recent Ruby Princess Transatlantic cruise. I realize there have already been several reviews, but hope my perspective may assist others looking for info as they plan future cruises. Some preliminary thoughts: I have on multiple occasions on cruises had someone I had never met tell me that their absolute favorite cruise line is (the name doesn't matter) only to have within 24-48 hours someone else I had never met tell me that "one thing is for sure; they will never cruise on (the very same line mentioned by the first person). Conclusion is obvious that different people have different likes and dislikes and points of view. But I believe there is more to it. While some lines may have hairy chest and belly-flop competitions and some don't; some may emphasize fixed seating dining and some emphasize come when you want dining and many other differences, the various lines seem to have a lot of similarities as well. I believe that comparisons based on folks saying they have been on several cruise lines, or even several ships, can lead to a bit of apples and oranges comparisons unless you compare cruises (and cruise lines) sailing similar itineraries at similar times of the year on similar size ships with similar passenger demographics, etc. Even the very same ship sailing a 7-day Spring Break Caribbean cruise and an 18-day Fall Transatlantic cruise will be very different; have different quality food, etc. So comparing one cruise line based on short Caribbean cruises with another cruise line sailing longer Asian or European cruises is problematic, for example. The weather, the people we meet, any loss of luggage, the dinner companions, etc, etc, will all color anyone's review of any cruise ship or cruise line. The real question for me is whether or not a cruise is worth my time and money, not whether it is better or worse than some other cruise or cruise line.
I look at cruises (and any other vacations) in terms of whether or not my expectations have been met or have been exceeded. An important factor is to establish appropriate expectations in the first place. So I will review our Oct/Nov Ruby Princess Transatlantic cruise from the perspective of whether my expectations were met or exceeded. I hope that something I say will be useful to someone planning a cruise in the future.
Pre-Cruise: We flew into Venice several days early to better ensure we had time to see the things we wanted to see in Venice, plus get over any jet lag. The weather was great when we arrived and on the first few days of our stay. We loved Venice; had a great time. The weather deteriorated on the day we boarded the ship and was very bad the day the ship sailed, but we had already seen what we wanted to see, so we were not troubled by the weather. Those who arrived and went straight to the ship probably were somewhat disappointed that the weather hampered their sightseeing opportunities. For us, research was key to understanding things like People Mover, Vaporetto schedules, museum hours, how to get from airport to our hotel in Mestre, which restaurants were good, etc. Lesson is to always go a few days early or stay a few days after in Europe.
Boarding/Embarkation: The whole process MET, perhaps EXCEEDED, my expectations. We arrived at the terminal about 11:15 expecting to wait a while for boarding. We sat comfortably in the waiting lounge enjoying coffee, juice, and pastries until we were called to board around noon. We were in the first groups to board and were in our cabin within minutes. I believe there were some people who reacted to some confusion about boarding numbers and seemed to be stressed. We tend to have a "well, things happen, and we are sure we will all get on pretty soon" attitude so don't let things like that bother us. We were on before we expected to be.
Weather: EXCEEDED our expectations. It was cold and windy on sail-away, but not raining and was beautiful. At this point I might have said my expectations were not met if the weather had remained the same the rest of the cruise, but it did not. We had heavy rain and winds while in Cannes, but perfectly fine weather in the other ports and on the transatlantic crossing. Fall in Europe and we only had one bad day of weather along the way seems pretty good to me. I realize there were folks on the cruise who had done this same cruise before and said this weather was worse than on past cruises, but I think they should just have been grateful for the great weather on previous cruises and realized our weather this time was perfectly satisfactory. I used my balcony often, particularly on the transatlantic portion of the cruise. Could the weather have been better? Yes. Was it just fine for what we wanted to do? Yes.
Waves: MET our expectations. Several people have asked me if the crossing was rough. Fall cruise in the Med and across the Atlantic - - we could have encountered much rougher seas. Not once did we have a "have to hold on to stay upright" condition. I actually had hoped to encounter some rougher seas just for a short while to see what they looked and sounded and felt like. We never got any seas that rough. Have other cruises had calmer seas. Probably. But we were fine with what we experienced.
Dining: The basic system: Barely MET our personal expectations, but clearly DID NOT MEET expectations for many of the other 2900 passengers. Our waiter and assistant waiter were very good. They worked hard, were knowledgeable, friendly, and responded well to any and all requests. They probably exceeded our expectations. However, we asked for 6:15 early seating and were instead given 5:30 seating. That time is just too early. Apparently many others had asked for the 6:15 seating and so we were wait-listed for many months. Also, many people asked for Anytime Dining and a very large percentage of them wanted to eat at about the same time. Their experience was really "Anytime to get your buzzer and wait until a table opens Dining." And that wait was longer than they wanted. When more people show up at a restaurant than can be seated, folks have to wait. We all have this experience at our local restaurants all the time. This is not everyone's expectation on the ship, however. I have always felt that if you have fixed seating and do not make it, you should not be allowed to go to Anytime Dining. I also believe that Princess should "max out" the early seating, and "max out" the late seating, and "max out" the anytime dining. I do not know if they do that. In other words, there should be a limit on anytime dining just as there is a limit on fixed dining. Their remaining problem then would be to deal with whoever is given anytime dining. They need to look at this problem because we have seen it on other ships, as well. Princess has created an expectation they are not meeting by making folks think they can eat "anytime."
MDR food quality: MET our expectations. Some was really excellent. Some was not so great. Most was satisfactory. Variety of dishes was good. Overall, perhaps a bit less good than we had experienced on several other cruises.
Sabatini's: DID NOT MEET our expectations. Just so-so. The "old style" Sabatini's where you got to try several different things has changed to an order what you want system pretty much like the MDR. This actually caused us to eat too much, but waste a great deal because the only way you can try anything is to order it, and if you order it, you get a full portion. So there are many things you do not order, and you probably cannot eat all of what you do order. Food quality was generally good. Service was really not very good. It took a very long time to eat with too much time between courses.
Crown Grill: EXCEEDED expectations. Perhaps because we went to the Grill several days after our Sabatini's experience we were apprehensive about what we might experience. In fact, the service was superb. The food was very good. The overall experience was great. Who knows why the two were different. The "system" seems to work the same in both places. Different days? Different folks? Who knows? We really enjoyed Crown Grill; did not really enjoy Sabatini's.
International CafÃ©: MET expectations. The food is great. Enjoying a nice cappuccino or latte is fun. Allowing folks to line up and get regular coffee at any time slows the process greatly and results in sometimes less than timely service. The generally-considered lousy coffee in the Horizon Court tends to push people to the IC for brewed coffee and makes things very slow at certain times.
Horizon Court: MET expectations. Some good, some not so good. Overall, I thought it was a good place for breakfast, was satisfactory for lunch, and could substitute for dinner in a pinch. People's tastes will get you many different opinions about HC. BTW, I kinda like what some people call the "chaos" of bumping into people as you move around to get food. Yes, you will encounter the pushy or the impatient folks who would be happier with a more structured setting. We tried the Caribe CafÃ© a few times for lunch. It was a good alternative. Food was just OK, but usually had some sort of International theme so was a fun change. We would like to have known a few days in advance when the Caribe CafÃ© was going to be open and what they were going to be serving.
Cabin Steward: EXCEEDED our expectations. As good as we have ever had.
Cabin: MET our expectations. We had a mini-suite; had a mini-suite before and knew what to expect. It was great. We love the extra room in the bathroom and the separate sitting area. We are in the group that is just fine with a completely exposed balcony. We have done covered, half covered, aft-facing, various decks. They are all fine with us. Key is not to be under or above a noisy area. Never had any problem with noise from neighbors on either side, above or below. Our cabin itself made interesting creaks and moans when the seas were 8 feet or higher, but we found them to be a kind of natural part of being on a ship in the ocean. We slept right through them.
Shore Excursions: Private tours EXCEEDED our expectations. Princess excursion DID NOT MEET our expectations. We did private tours while in Naples, Rome, and Barcelona. They were always superb!!! Our Princess excursion in Livorno was satisfactory, met our expectations. In Cannes, our Princess excursion was modified by the tour guide and did not go to the location it was supposed to visit. This troubled us because several other groups did go there and had a fine time. Weather is Cannes was rain and cold, as forecast, and as predicted by the Captain. We had our warm clothing and our wet-weather gear and were happy to experience things in the rain; have done it many times before in much worse conditions. Many passengers, however, were unprepared and were somehow miraculously surprised that they got cold and wet. This tour did not go where advertised so clearly DID NOT MEET our expectations. Princess excursions in Lisbon and the Azores were satisfactory, the Azores excursion hampered by fog, but there is no way anyone can control the fog. These things happen. Overall lesson is one we have always known. A good, reputable private tour is better than a Princess excursion - - is a smaller group and provides greater flexibility and gets you to more places - - generally for the same or less money.
The Gym and Thermal Suite: MET expectations. The gym had good equipment, well maintained. Going at times to avoid the crowd is a good idea. The Thermal Suite is something we do on many cruises; always relaxing.
Entertainment: Overall, MET expectations. We never went to a show in the Princess Theatre so cannot comment. We did not take this cruise for that purpose. John Maxtone-Graham was a very good lecturer; probably exceeded our expectations. Other lecturers were OK, but not great. The various piazza acts (jugglers, magicians, etc) were just OK. We enjoyed the violinists and piano player several evenings while we had a pre-dinner cocktail.
Disembarking: MET expectations. Although the process seemed to be about 30 minutes behind scheduled times, we enjoyed juice and coffee until called, exited quickly and efficiently, found our luggage quickly and passed very quickly through immigration. We took a taxi to the airport. There were many available. Cost without tip was about $12.00. We experienced no problems with disembarkation other than seeing the occasional impatient passenger.
Overall Assessment: Cruise MET our expectations; probably would have exceeded our expectations were it not for the dining and shore excursion problems. We clearly enjoyed the cruise and would be delighted to do it again. Advance planning/research is key. There were actually passengers who got on the cruise not knowing that we were in Rome on Sunday and the Vatican would be closed. Lots of cruise critic and Red Hot Ruby Roll Call research enabled us to get a great hotel, book wonderful private tours, and develop reasonable expectations for the cruise. There are many other things I did not cover, but this is already very long. If there are questions, feel free to ask.