I was my big 3-0. Not my birthday, I'm older than that, it was my thirtieth cruise. My fifth cruise on Princess, I've also cruise on Royal Caribbean, NCL, Carnival, Celebrity and Disney.
We flew to Fort Lauderdale two nights early, January 27, via Delta with a stop to change planes in Atlanta. The flights were uneventful, we arrived on time. Although we were one bag short when the carousel quit going around. We proceeded to the baggage office to inquire. Luckily when we gave our name they said that our bag is on its way. It must have fallen off the little luggage train onto the tarmac.
We stayed at the Sheraton Fort Lauderdale Beach Hotel. I was able to book this hotel on Hotwire for under $100 a night before taxes and fees, listed as a 3.5 star in the Fort Lauderdale Beach zone with the following amenities; near beach, smoke free, fitness center, pool, restaurant, business center and high-speed internet access. This property was recently remodeled and was very nice and clean. We were assigned a room in the main tower on the third level over looking one of the pools. The room had fresh paint and carpet and nice bedding. The furniture was kind of cheap, the bed a bit on the firm side and the bathroom small. But all fine for the two nights we would be there. Our room overlooked the skyway over to the marina tower, but because of the curve in the road we also had an ocean view. We went to explore the hotel and found the beach bar and infinity pool. We thought the beers were affordable at $5 each and had some very tasty chicken quesadillas for $10. We also found a happy hour at that Mexican restaurant there where beers were only $4. I highly recommend this hotel if you want to stay on the beach before or after a cruise.
Before long it was time to meet friends for dinner at Kelly's Landing. We had a nice meal mostly seafood, but I had a really yummy French dip. After dinner we stopped at Total Wine and Publix for some supplies.
On Saturday I went to the fitness center at the hotel to do my 30 minutes on the ellipse machine. The fitness center was nice. After hitting the fitness center we went for a walk down the beach, pretty soon I realized the fitness center wasn't really necessary since walking on the beach was plenty of exercise. By the time we made it back to the hotel the pool bar was open, so we stopped for a refreshing beverage. It was time to go meet more friends, so we walked north along A1A to LuLu's at Beach Place. We had drinks and appetizers including; mozzarella sticks, calamari, and oysters all good. Then after 4 we went across the street to watch the ships sail. After watching some ships, we walked south and stopped at the Elbo Room, but it was so packed we didn't stay long. Next we took the trolley over to 17th Street and stopped in at Duffy's the drinks were two for one and we ordered loaded potato skins and fish tacos. The fish tacos were tasty; the loaded skins were a joke. Since the trolleys were done running we took a cab back to our hotel and were hoping to stop at the pool bar, but the pool bar was closed, so we went to the Wreck Bar. This bar has windows into a pool and they do a mermaid show in the evening. After a couple martinis we decided to call it a night.
Finally it's Sunday morning, the day we are boarding Ruby Princess! We spent the morning getting our suitcases in order. This was my first chance to use my new reusable luggage tag holders. They worked well; I'll be using them again in December for the Caribbean Princess! We had gotten a box from Total Wine. I packed a six pack of water, a 12 pack of Yuenling and a 2 liter of diet Coke into the box and filled in with dirty clothes. Then I taped it up and taped a couple luggage tags to it. We packed our wine and champagne in our carryons.
Our friends picked us up and our plan was to have breakfast at Waxy O'Conner's, but they weren't open, so instead we went to Joe's. We had some yummy omelets while sitting in the swings. Joe's is a good breakfast place it's in the same mall as Publix just off 17th Street.
We got to the port about 10:15. We dropped the suitcases and box with a porter, and then found the end of the line. It looked like people were still disembarking. That seemed kind of late to still be disembarking. They came around with the health forms for us to fill out in line. Then at about 11:00 they let us in and through the x-ray and metal detectors. Upon entering we were given a #2, then directed to seats. It must have been about noon when they started calling people into the registration lines, because it was 12:05 when we stepped onboard the ship.
We went directly to our room R508 and unpacked our carryons. I loved this room! There are several oversized inside rooms on Riviera Deck that are not wheelchair-accessible. These cabins have much more floor space and storage space and doors on the closets. We had plenty of room for all our stuff and then some. We also had a great cabin steward, Julio, he was great! He was quick cleaning our room and always kept our little cooler full of ice. I love the ice they have for the cabins; the cubes are nice and big. We always use more ice than the ice bucket holds, so we bring a small cooler and ask our cabin steward to keep it full for us. I like spending time at the MUTS pool, so this room was very convenient, just one deck below. The only issue we had with the room was that on the first day when we were unpacking it was very hot in the room although the thermostat was at the coolest setting, I reported this right away to guest services and the cabin steward. Maintenance was sent to our room while we were out at dinner and the temp was improved, throughout the week the room occasionally felt warm, but for the most part it was cool.
It was time to explore a bit. We made it to the pool bar at the MUTS pool. We met up with the friends we were cruising with here. They had invited us to join them for the Ultimate Balcony Dining experience, so one of us from each room set out to get it set up. Our first stop was guest services, where they told us to call the dining reservation line. Next we called the dining reservation line, but then were told to call room service. Finally we called room service and got a hold of George. George is in charge of the UBD program, he got us set up for Wednesday night. We had two decisions to make, what before dinner drink would we like and would we like lobster, or steak or lobster and steak. After that task it was time to move to the aft pool for our meet and greet. Unfortunately a couple of us had to miss the meet and greet to go sit in line waiting to fix our dining assignment. This was the second cruise in a row booked with this travel agent that I had to waste time on embarkation day fixing my table assignment. I think it's time for a new TA. It took an hour to fix our table assignment. By the time we were done it was time to stop at the cabin and get our life jacket for the muster drill. Our muster station was in the Explorer's Lounge, we found a seat, they scanned our card, we listened to the instruction and we tried on our life jackets. We went back to the aft pool for sail away. It has been a few years since we sailed from Fort Lauderdale; sail away out the channel goes so fast there.
After sail away we unpacked and got ready for dinner. My first stop was at Vines for a glass of Sauvignon Blanc and some tapas, both were tasty. Since we were dining traditional late in the Botticelli we decided to meet for pre dinner drinks in Adagio. Adagio is a nice quiet under utilized venue, good drinks and nice atmosphere. There's a piano player, that occasionally sings, but should stick to just playing the piano. We stopped at the podium on the way into dinner for our new table assignment. We were seated at table 102, which was a four top back in the corner, nice and quiet back there. We met our servers; Tawari from India and his assistant whose name was too long and unpronounceable to remember. These servers were a fantastic team; dinner was always paced just right, not rushed and not extra long. I usually order the prime rib, but decided to try something different and got the pork, it was good. We're not into the shows, so after dinner we went back to the room.
Monday we are at Princess Cay. First thing I went to the fitness center and did my 30 minutes on the ellipse machine, it wasn't crowded and there were plenty of machines. We had breakfast from the buffet and ate outside back by the Outrigger bar. I love eggs benedict and the corned beef hash. We decide to wait until the big rush to the tenders is over and head to the dining room for our tender tickets between 10:00 and 11:00. The weather was nice; sunny but not real hot, we found a spot on the main beach. I went in the water for a bit and was glad I brought shoes that I could wear into the water it was very rocky. We had lunch onshore and stood in line for a long time for what wasn't very good. There weren't even any burgers when I went through. The best part was the banana bread and chocolate cookies. We went back toward the tenders between 2:00 and 2:30. Then we went straight to the aft pool, where we found out how chilly the pools were on board. We stayed at the pool long enough to have a few happy hour drinks. Tonight we stopped at Crooners before going up to Adagio before dinner. We met Adrian the bartender at Crooners he was fun to talk to and mixed a good martini. I like trying different martinis from the long list they have at Crooners, but then I settled on the Cosmopolitini. Princess does lack a good variety of vodka, I prefer Belvedere, but the best they have is Grey Goose. We still had time for a stop at Adagio before dinner. Tonight was Italian night; I had the eggplant parmesan and the veal. The eggplant was so good, I have to find a recipe and try it myself. Again we had great service in the dining room. After dinner we decided to check out Skywalkers. It was pretty dead up at Skywalkers, they were doing a tribute to Michael Jackson that got old after a drink so we left.
Tuesday we were at sea. Again I went to the fitness center for my time on the ellipse machine, again it wasn't crowded. I ate breakfast at the buffet again, more eggs benedict. We chose loungers one deck up from the pool with MUTS, it was windy but sunny. I'll have to say that I didn't like how they programmed the MUTS on sea days. When I cruised on the Emerald on sea days they would play three movies, one day I saw Shrek 1, 2 & 3, another day Oceans 11, 12 & 13. Well on this and other sea days they played a concert then a movie and then another concert. I would have much rather watched more movies. Today it was a Lionel Richie concert, then Breakfast at Tiffany's. I decided to do some laundry this morning. There was a laundry room right down the hall from our room, so it was easy to go back and forth from my chair to the room and the laundry room; I bought my travel alarm with me so I could keep track of the time. I always bring the Purex 3-in-1 sheets, they are easy to use and transport. A wash cycle and a dry cycle are $2 each, only one dry cycle is required to get things dry. Just before noon the captain made the announcement that the threshold had been reached for norovirus and the ship would be in a code red status. After the movie it was time to get clean up for the Sommelier Wine Club Tasting. I did this wine tasting with the higher end wines and better snacks on the Diamond a couple years ago. I think it was much better on the Diamond, the wines were better then than they were this time. On the Diamond we got to taste an Opus, but on the Ruby we only got Robert Mondavi Reserve. Also they would have us try the wine and then tell us which snack to eat with the wine and notice how the taste changes a bit. This time they never really told us what to eat with each wine. Renee the sommelier was inconsistent with her dialogue, taking too long on the first couple of wines, and then rushing us through the last few wines. After the wine tasting it was time to get ready for formal night. We took a couple pictures and watched them build the champagne waterfall. I always try a waterfall picture and one of these days it will turn out good. I had the Halibut for dinner and it was wonderful. Again we had great service even though now the bread and butter weren't allowed on the table; our service team also served them. After dinner we went to the Explorer's Lounge for the comedian, it was crowded so we sat out in the hallway, but we could still hear and the show was funny.
Wednesday we were in St. Maarten. First stop the fitness center, then breakfast in the buffet. We were a bit late arriving in St. Maarten, so they announced all aboard was 6:30 instead of 5:30. There were seven ships in port that day; it was a very busy day. We took a cab to Maho Beach to watch the airplanes. It was pretty much mass confusion at the taxi stand with so many ships in port, but we were able to get into the second cab to Maho after we found the right spot. Even though the sign said $8 per person with more than 5 passengers we were still charged $9 per person. We got the last lounge chair at the beach for $10. The beach was crowded, the surf was up, the sun was shining and the beers were cold; Caribes were only $3. We saw several big jets land and take off and many small planes. At about 3:00 we got a cab back to Phillipsburg. We stopped at the Belgium Chocolate Shoppe, which was crazy busy, then to the Guavaberry Hut. We stepped out of the shop and there was a cab right there, we hopped in and went back to the port, I think it was $3 each. Back on board we got a cheeseburger at the grill. After getting cleaned up we had time for a martini at Crooners before our Ultimate Balcony Dinner.
Our friends had a corner aft balcony on the Caribe deck, so they invited us to do the Ultimate Balcony Dinner with them. We've done the chef's table a couple times and decided this would be a great new experience. This was a fabulous experience! They set up two tables together on the balcony. We started with our drinks, martinis and cosmos. Our appetizer was a quiche. Then we had a salad with pears, cheese and candied pecans, super yum. Each couple also got a bottle of champagne; it looked like a small bottle, but still filled four glasses. We also brought one of our bottles of cava to drink after our champagne was gone. I ordered lobster only, everyone else ordered surf and turf. I did get a taste of the steak and it was very good, I was just trying to avoid getting too full. For dessert we had a multi-dimensional chocolate and raspberry treat. Then to top it all off there was a plate of cookies which they brought to our room for us along with our flowers. The package also included an 8X10 picture. This was a fabulous meal, and for the price I think it's a better deal than the chef's table, especially since they've raised the price of the chef's table. Tonight was the deck party, but we were all too full and tired from our great meal to go out. We heard that they couldn't have any food at the deck party because of the noro code red.
Thursday we were in St. Thomas. We arrived early 7:00AM and docked at Crown Bay. No fitness center or buffet breakfast today. We got off the ship and went straight into town and to Glady's Cafe for breakfast. I had a mushroom and swiss omelet, yummo. We also arranged for a bunch of hot sauce to be shipped directly home, so that we wouldn't have to pack it in our suitcases. After Glady's we found cab and went to Emerald Beach. This is a nice mellow beach near the airport. There's a Best Western Hotel there, they charge $7 a chair for visitors and the Caribes are $5. We were sitting kind of tucked under some trees. As we were sitting there talking a large iguana fell out of the tree and hit my chair! I'm so glad he didn't fall on me. He stood there for a while staring at us, I was scared he might be hurt, but then someone walked past and almost stepped on its tail and he scurried into the shrubs. The weather was nice with a few passing showers. About 2:00 we grabbed a cab back to the port. We had some time to have a drink and a little shopping at the port; we also saw several more iguanas on the rocks. Back on the ship we stop at the grill, a chicken sandwich this time. I had to do another load of laundry. I sat out at the aft pool while I was waiting. At 3:30 they start announcing the names of an entire family that haven't returned yet, they finally show up just after 4:00, we were supposed to leave at 4:00. We enjoyed sail away and happy hour drinks at the aft pool. Then it was time to get ready for formal night. We took a couple pictures and went to the captain's club party before dinner. Since I had wonderful lobster last night I decided to have beef Wellington tonight. After dinner we went to the Explorer's Lounge to see another comedian. This time we got good seats up front and the comedian was very funny.
Friday we were at Grand Turk. Back to the fitness center and buffet for breakfast. Since we weren't scheduled to arrive at Grand Turk until 1:00 we sat at the MUTS pool and watched Paul McCartney and then Moneyball. By the time Moneyball was over, we were there. This was our first time to Grand Turk. We had heard a lot about Jack's Shack, so that was our first stop. We tried several different drinks, had our free shot of rum and also had some jerk chicken. Then on the way back to the ship we stopped at Local Village for some conch, Jack's was out of conch. We had conch salad, fritters and tenders. We went back to the ship about 5:00 and watched the Glory sail away from the aft pool. We went to Adagio again before dinner. I don't remember what I had for dinner tonight.
Saturday we were at sea. This morning I skipped the fitness center, but still went to the buffet for breakfast. Then we sat at the MUTS pool. The concert this morning was a group I had never heard of before. At noon was Dolphin Tale, which was a fun movie to see on the ship. I had pizza for lunch. Today the special pizza was Hawaiian, pineapple and Canadian bacon. Our luggage tags and debarkation information was delivered to our room. We went to exchange our tags for Navy 6, which was the last on the list since we were spending the night in Fort Lauderdale and not flying right home. I did some packing in the afternoon. We also did some shopping, bought a few t-shirts. We happened to stop at Crooner's during the Princess Pop Choir concert in the Piazza. They sounded good and looked like they were having fun. We stopped at Adagio one last time before dinner. I'm not a fan of the Landfall menu, I ordered the steak, while the flavor was good, and it was very tough. I think from now on we'll stick with the Crown Grill on the last night. After dinner we went to the room to change and put out the suitcases, and then we went to Crooner's for a last drink.
Sunday, the day we must leave the Ruby Princess. We packed our remaining stuff into our carry-ons and head to the dining room for breakfast at 7:30. I had the French Toast and it did not disappoint. After breakfast we found a spot to wait in the Piazza until 9:00 when we were to report to the Michelangelo Dining Room for debarkation. At 9:00 we entered the Michelangelo Dining Room and sat there until 9:45 when they called Navy 6. Once we were called we were off the ship, found our luggage and were through customs and immigrations very quickly, probably ten minutes or so. We were staying over night at the Renaissance on 17th Street. So we opted to walk and pull our suitcases since we were docked so close, it's only about three blocks. We got to the hotel about 10:15. I stopped at the desk to check in, of course our room wasn't ready yet, but that was okay. We sat out by the pool for awhile; our room was ready about 12:15. The Renaissance is my favorite hotel for pre and post cruise stays on 17th Street. After getting our room, it was time for lunch; we went to Southport Raw Bar. We got a nice table outside and ordered raw oysters and then fish tacos. Both were very good. We stopped at the liquor store on the way back to the hotel. We had thought about riding the water taxi or trolley today, but weren't very ambitious, so we went back to the pool at the hotel. While sitting at the pool we could hear the muster drill on the Ruby before leaving port. We intended to go to Duffy's to watch the Super Bowl, but again lacked the ambition; instead we walked to Giorgio's for pizza. The pizza was good, but not great, the crust seemed to be missing something, it had no flavor. After our pizza we went back to our hotel room to watch the Super Bowl.
Monday we flew back home. Our flight was at 7:30; we left the hotel about 6:00, checked in and even at that early hour had to wait for what seemed like forever in the security check point line. I found a breakfast sandwich to eat before boarding the plane. Our direct flight left on time and landed a bit early.
Norovirus, it took 30 cruises before I sailed on a norovirus cruise. The changes due to the noro red alert didn't adversely effect my enjoyment of the cruise. I felt bad that the crew had to work so much more. I heard all kinds of theories regarding the noro breakout on board; it's because of the blue cards, it a certain ethnic group of passengers, etc. I think it just comes down to cleanliness, if everyone washed their hands properly after using the restroom, it wouldn't happen. Even during the alert people were seen leaving the restroom without washing, that's gross.
A lot has been said about the beds on Princess and most of it not good. I did find the beds to be more firm than I prefer, I did like the pillows though. I'm not sure if the beds were the reason that I didn't sleep well. But it might have been the coffee with dessert or the fact that I made it the whole without having to take any Bonine.
We encountered a couple cranky and entitled people but didn't let them put a damper on our good time.
I had intended to go to the casino on formal night when it was smoke free but never made it. I heard that it was super smoky smelling even on the smoke free nights and when it was closed when we were in port. The only time I was bothered by smoke was the one time we went up to Skywalkers. I was trying to figure out which side was the smoking side but both seemed equally smoky, so we sat in the middle where it was kind of smoky. I spent a lot of time at the aft pool, during the day they opened the patio of Sabatini's as a smoking area. I was never bothered by smoke down by the aft pool.
I had a great time on my Ruby Princess cruise highlighted by fantastic food and service in the dining room even with the added tasks required by the noro red alert, fun and friendly service by bartenders and servers, fun and relaxing island time and quality time with friends and a memorable Ultimate Balcony Dining Experience.