A little about ourselves - We were a group of 8 ranging from first time cruiser to 31 cruises, ages 45 to 64. This was DH and my 6th Princess cruise, and everyone else was new to Princess.
We went to Ft.Lauderdale on Saturday, the day before our cruise, and stayed at the Best Western, Oakland Park. My husband and I stayed here about 4 years ago, just as they were starting renovations. We were pleased to see that the rooms were a lot nicer now, with upgraded bedding. The location of this hotel works for us. It is close to a small mall, and a grocery store, for getting those liquids we chose not to fly with any more, but not in an expensive neighborhood. The grocery store also has a liquor store attached, so you can get everything you may want.
There are also several places to eat next to the hotel. The deli serves good food, as well as the Steeler's bar, (I think the name is The Drunken Sailor, but not positive,) that has very good sea food, and other surprisingly good choices, and a pizza place, in the plaza next to the hotel.
The hotel also offer shuttle service from the airport and to the Cruise port, for $5.00 each way, per person, which we chose to use. We were traveling with adult family, 8 of us total, so we signed up for the 1:00PM shuttle to the port, to make sure we could all ride together.
We arrived at about 1:20PM, and it looked like a long line, but it turned out to be no waiting. The line was just to check that you had your passport and cruise papers, and so moved quickly with just seconds of waiting. We went through security screening, which wasn't very pleasant, because they were hurrying you to keep moving, and not giving you a chance to gather your stuff up that went through the screening machine, even though they had tables there, for getting yourself reorganized. They just didn't want you to use the tables. There wasn't a crowd, so I don't know why they were making us feel so hurried.
As I said, even though we were arriving at what is usually prime time, there was no waiting, more than second in line, so we were boarding the ship, with in minutes of arriving at the port.
As we boarded the ship, they scanned our cruise card by hand, and then took our picture for the card.
Everyone was "whiled" by the first impression of the ship. I thought that it was going to be decorated for Christmas, but I guess since it was going into dry dock before Christmas, they put off decorating it. I was a bit disappointed, because I thought that would be a nice surprise for my family, but since none of them have ever seen one of these ships all decorated, they really didn't know what they were missing.
We all went our separate ways to check out our rooms, and then met up on the Lido deck for lunch around 2:45PM It was good, lots of variety still available, but we ate light, since it was getting late already.
Muster was held at 3:15PM and then sail-a-way was very close to 4:00PM. The muster life boat drill went very smoothly. They scanned your cruise card to account for you, and then called out names of those who should have been there, but weren't scanned in. Then they gave us a security talk, showed us how to put on a life jacket, and then had us try our life jackets on, and it was over. We were free to enjoy a wonderful week of cruising.
We chose Any time dining for the week, and never had to wait more than a few minutes to be seated, even though we dined between 6:00PM and 7:20PM throughout the week. The trick was choosing the correct dining room, depending on the time. Deck 5 was good for most of the time, but if there was a wait, and it was around 7:15PM, Deck 6 was the better choice. It was just after the 5:30 fixed seating was over, and anytime dining was just starting on that floor.
I like the concept of dining when we were ready, but I think we will go back to traditional dining now that they spend so much time trying to sell you water, and wine, before they even fill your free water glass. That wasn't the case with every waiter. We did get two nights when the waiter filled our water glasses while offering the purchase of other beverages. I feel with traditional dining, you won't have to wait through the sales speech every night, so it will be a nicer dining experience.
Our family grew up in the Pittsburgh area, so the first night, after dinner, we put on our Steelers shirts and headed up to watch them on Movies Under The Stars, (MUTS,) for the Sunday night game. Happily they won!
I checked out the seafood buffet during half time, but only found shrimp cocktails. They may have had fried fish, but I was looking for the Lobster claws, that were on the Crown last year. The shrimp were good though for a snack.
We turned the clocks ahead one hour this first night, on route to Princess Cay.
Princess Cay was beautiful as always. The water was a bit churned up, but the snorkeling was ok near the little dock where you can feed the fish and get your snorkel rental equipment. The water is cold this time of year, but you can get use to it, if you try.
I didn't see any bugs, but we all were wearing our bug spray to ward off any mosquito's lurking around.
The lunch buffet was nice. They served hamburgers, hot dogs, bratwurst, chicken breast, spare ribs, salad, fresh fruit, cookies and brownies. The fresh fruit was some of the best this whole week, on the ship. A nice variety, and sweet and delicious!
We took the tenders back to the ship around 3;00PM, as did most of the passengers, and we sailed between 4 and 4:30PM.
Tuesday was a sea day, and the first formal night.
During the day, we went to Vines and had a bottle of wine, and the sushi and tapas. It was good, even though I am not a sushi eater, except at Vines. Maybe it is the wine that makes me eat it. I believe you can find sushi at lunch time in the very back of the Horizon Court, but most people don't even make it back to that area.
Another thing that we did was Tea in the dining room, every day. I tried scones and cream for the first time, and found that I have been missing out on something delicious for too many years. They served lots of nice treats at tea, including little cakes, tea sandwiches, and cookies. You could also ask for any kind of tea that you wanted. They had a selection of tea bags, and would bring hot water, if you didn't want the regular tea that they were serving.
That evening, was the champagne fountain, which I like to see, and they passed out mimosas and champagne.
Wednesday we were in St.Maarten which is a beautiful place. We took the city bus to Maho Beach, and watched the planes land almost on top of us. A few of us enjoyed the waves and drinks from the beach bar, in between landings, before heading back to town. The traffic is terrible on this Island, so what should take about 15 minutes, turned into an hour ride. We got off the bus in down town, and looked at some of the vender's wares, as we made our way back to the water taxi. You can take a traditional taxi for $3.00, but we chose the water taxi for $4.00 one way.
Thursday was a stop in St.Thomas. We docked at Crown Bay, and decided to try a different beach than the usual ones. We walked over to Crown Bay Marina, and took a water taxi to Water Island. It's $5.00 each way, and is worth the effort to get to the beach. The beach here is also known as Honeymoon Beach, It's secluded, the water is calm and easy to swim in, and there is a local place to get a snack or beers and cold drinks. you have to walk up a hill, and then down another hill to the beach, or you can rent a golf cart for $35.00 for the day. The bad thing is we didn't see that sign about renting the cart, until we had done the walk, and we were waiting for the water taxi to pick us back up. It was ok to walk for some of us, but others had a bit of a rough time, since they were using canes. Well, we will know for next time.
We stopped at the Marina store and got some Asti for our pre dinner drinks, since it was our second formal night, and Lobster night. I found the lobster and shrimp to be very good! The seafood was usually a very good choice for dinner on any night. The only dish that wasn't very good was the hot mussels toward the end of the cruise. The cold ones on the buffet were excellent though.
Friday was our last port call, and it was in Grand Turk. It was our fist time here, and I really liked it. They had some space exhibits, because the Mercury 7 mission splashed down here. So that was interesting to look at, and it was nice to have a beautiful beach right at the port.
We took a taxi tour of the island, and saw the light house, wild donkeys, and sea birds, and just the way of life in Grand Turk. When we returned to the port, we snorkeled right next to the ship pier, and found a sunken canon with fish swimming in and out of it, and a large barracuda, about 3 feet long. Very impressive! There were several nice species of fish right behind all the unsuspecting people playing in the waves.
After a nice afternoon of playing in the ocean, we did a little souvenir shopping, visited Margaritaville, and went back to the ship. I really liked this port, and look forward to visiting it again.
To summarize this cruise I'll touch on the things that I have kind of avoided so far.
The ship rode a bit rough, and the water was a bit choppy, but the weather was beautiful! I don't feel this is typical for this time of year, since we have sailed many times before in November and December, and the seas were very calm.
The food, wasn't the best that I have ever had. I didn't see escargot on the menu for anytime dining, and when I asked about it, on what I thought was French night, I was told that it had been offered a different night. If you really want it, follow the advice of others, and ask the head waiter the first night, and go by what he suggest.
I usually find the food very good on the ship, so I was a little disappointed at times, with dinner in the dining room, but there were lots of choices, and some food was very good! I thought that the pasta dishes that I had were delicious, especially the potato gnocchi. I also really enjoy the cold soups, and the hot ones, so often I had both. The shrimp cocktails and other hot shrimp dishes were always good, and the chicken salad and the shrimp salad in the International Cafe was delicious.
It was always easy and fast, even if we wouldn't share, to get a table at anytime dining, but it was an off peek week. But after experiencing the pre dinner drinks sales pitch every night, I think we will find a traditional time that will work for us.
My husband and I don't go to the shows any more, but the rest of the family enjoyed them through out the week.
I did like the back stage tour, the galley tour, and the navigational talk, along with the shows in the centrum. I also liked watching the movies and events on MUTS.
As a Platinum Princess Cruiser, we were given the opportunity to have Happy Hour in Sky Walkers lounge every night, between 5 and 7:00PM, but since we were with family who were new to Princess we chose to hang out with them, and have private balcony parties. We were given a list on the first day, as to what the drink and appetizer of the night, would be, so you would know whether you wanted to go to the lounge or not. The drinks were $3.99 at the happy hour. You could also get happy hour drinks in many of the bars for that same price, but they were different drinks.
There was also a repeat cruisers party, but we also missed that. It was on Thursday night, I believe.
A very nice perk was the free Internet minutes. We didn't use them all, because we with most of the people I e-mail, but it was nice to have them.
Everyone got a little blue Princess tote bag the first night, which was handy for taking to the beach, and shopping.
Overall, we had a great week, and we all miss being at sea on the Ruby!