We always cruise over Thanksgiving. I wanted to try Princess cruises for a change and was glad to find they had their newest ship the Ruby sailing to our favorite ports of St. Thomas and St. Maarten over the holiday. We booked directly with the cruise line.
We flew into Ft. Lauderdale for 2 nights pre-cruise shopping at the Sawgrass Mills Mall. We rented a car through Alamo, which is so convenient, because when we returned the car, they took us on a shuttle to the cruise ship free of charge. We also had a car rented after we returned from the cruise and they picked us up at the port and took us back to the airport to pick up our car, free of charge. Also with Alamo, they have a program with your car where it is preregistered for toll roads. So you don't have to pay the toll, you will just be billed on your credit card if you use any toll roads during your stay.
We stayed at a lovely fairly new Hampton Inn on 5701 Madison Avenue in Tamarac, FL about 4 miles from the Mall. This is a VERY nice hotel and the staff was so accommodating. Very nice fitness room, and free (hot) breakfast in the morning. Not alot of things close by to this hotel, so if you are not driving, this would not be a good option. This location is about 10 miles from the airport, but because it was so easy to get there it was no problem for us at all.
The Sawgrass Mill Mall experience was great! We are from Kentucky, and this is probably the biggest mall we have ever visited. Loved all the nice restaurants, Cheesecake Factory, Grand Lux Cafe, PF Changs, and many other nice restaurants right on the mall property. They have a movie theater, many high end shops and so many other outlet stores.
On Sunday we boarded the Ruby Princess around 1:00. We had no difficulty getting on board. We waited about 10 minutes in line outside the terminal, then about 5 minutes inside the terminal to get our sea pass card and on to the ship!
One of the best things I like about Princess is that you can go to your room immediately! No waiting until 1:00 to get into your room and drop your bags so you can eat without lugging all that carry on luggage with you to lunch!
We went to our cabin right away, dropped our luggage and headed back to the Horizon Terrace for our lunch! They always had the BEST breakfast and lunch entrees, desserts, and side dishes. This is the BEST cafe my husband and I have visited on a ship and we have cruised with nearly every Cruise line.
After eating our lunch, we stopped by the Movie with the Stars and watched a few minutes of football on the big screen. It is amazing what a good picture and sound this projects. Even while at Sea, you could hear the movies well while laying by the pool. We watched a George Michael concert late one night under the stars. It was really nice!
Back to our room to unpack a few things. I LOVE the cabin set up. The closet is about 5 feet long, with plenty of hangers. There are several shelves for other clothing items along with the safe. The bathroom is standard for a cruise ship, it has a shower curtain - which clings sometimes. I certainly hope Princess goes to the sliding glass doors on their new ship as well as having a proper place to put your shampoo and soap so they don't fall in the floor all the time. A place to put your leg while shaving would be nice too. The refrigerator was very cold which is great! One thing Princess does is put your ice bucket inside the refrigerator. It is a thermas bucket, that you could keep outside if you want, but it helps keep your ice frozen longer while tucked in the fridge. Nice idea! Beds were extremely comfortable. Balcony had some type of blue material with a design on them that let water seep through to the bottom. The Blue was very nice although a bit tough on bare feet. Two chairs and a table made it really nice to sit outside and take in the view of Ft. Lauderdale before we departed.
First port was Princess Cay. We were tendered in, which took no time. The beach was great. A lot of activities for families, people snorkeling and riding banana boats. We chose simply to get a chaise and lie in the sun! The Barbeque was good. Several choices and we didn't have to wait in line long.
I have given my thoughts on St. Thomas and St. Maarten below. For those of you that have never been to St. Thomas, the St. John island tour is really nice. It is so lovely there and the beaches are beautiful. St. Maarten has so much to offer. We have been to the Airport and visited the Sunset Bar and Grill for lunch and drinks just to watch the planes come in (right over the beach). It is so much fun to watch! We have also been to Marigot, which is on the French side. It is a lovely seaside town with many cafes and bakeries right by the yacht club. Nice shopping mall too.
Back to the ship. We had dinner in the Botticelli Dining room and Marianna was our server. She was great and the dinner was wonderful every evening. This was by FAR the BEST Thanksgiving meal we had on a cruise! A very traditional Thanksgiving dinner! Two nights our excursions and a spa treatment ran long so we at in the Horizon Food Court and it was wonderful. We really enjoyed their food selections and it was excellently prepared each evening.
I had my first hot stone massage (75 minutes) with Chix at the spa. It was heavenly. I would definitely recommend it. I have had many massages, but this was the best. Full body front and back. So very relaxing.
We only attended the welcome aboard show in the Theatre. It was very good. Other nights we enjoyed the comedians and the game shows they had each evening in the larger bar areas. Family Feud, and try talking to someone for 3 minutes without responding yes or no to any questions...so funny! The love and marriage game show was also very funny!
The ship was in excellent shape. The Piazza was beautiful and the center of many activities during the day. They had an entertainer there every evening before dinner displaying cirque de soleil type activities, juggling, etc. The shops were very nice and not too pricey. You could find about any type of toiletry you needed on the ship. International Cafe had donuts every morning, as well as gelato and pastries and sandwiches, salads throughout the day.
On sea days the Wheel House Pub hosts a lunch of English fare. Fish and chips, and other English menu items. We would have loved to have gone, but the line was so long. Everyone raved how good the food was. Next Time, we will be in line before it opens.
We did not use the casino, but it was fairly large. The pool on the back of the ship is very calm and relaxing. If you go outside of the Adagio Bar, on the back of the ship, there is a wonderful little area with artificial turf and small tables and chairs to take in the wake of the ship and overlook the pool. VERY nice!
Overall our first time cruising experience with Princess was so good we decided to go ahead and buy a future cruise credit for $100 each. On a balcony cabin of 10 or more days you receive a $100 on board credit for your next Princess Cruise. You have 4 years to use it and it is fully refundable. It was SO very easy to buy this. You filled out a form in your room and put it inside the box outside the Future Cruise Agent's office, and that was it.
I'm sure we will be sailing on the new Princess ship that comes out in 2013! Can't wait! We really loved our Thanksgiving Cruise aboard the Ruby!