My husband and I just got off the sailing of Ruby March 4-11, 2012. We left from Ft. Lauderdale to Princess Cays, St. Martin, St. Thomas, and Turks and Caicos.
Our cruise started out a bit late because of the nasty Noro virus. We received an email that we could not board until 3:00 and we departed around 6:00. They had a large room at the convention center where we could wait while they deloused the ship. They had a cash bar, some food for purchase and free water. Because we are platinum members we were able to board fairly quickly, but there were those who had to wait until 5:30 to get on. No fault of the cruiseline. They were just trying to make sure the next sailing was germ-free.
The weather was iffy at the start of the cruise with cooler temps and clouds in Princess Cays but improved throughout the week.
Background on our cruise experience: this was our 10th cruise and 7th on Princess. We have been to all of these islands numerous times with the exception of Turks and Caicos.
The ship: I had high hopes for this ship which is currently the largest of the Princess fleet. However, the ship was a disappointment. It was just a larger version of the Grand Princess with the same bars, restaurants, decor, colors, etc. I was hoping for something, anything unique and different, and got vanilla.
Our cabin (with balcony) was on the Lido deck in the front of the ship so it was convenient to the pools and the grill but it was a bit bumpy up there. But, it was a bumpy cruise for the first half of the week, so I am not sure if it was any better else where on the ship. The cabins were fine - nothing special, with a balcony that held two small chairs and a table. My husband complained about the hard matress. I was comfortable. I complained about the creaking and banging noises our cabin made at night, but once I started using my ear plugs at night I slept like a baby.
The food: in a word - uninspired. This was probably the worst food I have had in all my cruises. Now I know food is a very personal thing, and many I talked to enjoyed the cuisine, but they were usually first time cruisers and there were just as many who were disappointed. For some reason there was an abundance of duck and veal and chicken with very little beef. I usually peruse the menu and have a hard time deciding what I want because the choices are wonderful. This time I had a hard time choosing because it was all so boring! From the Horizon court to the main dining room it was nothing special.
Now....Sabatinis was another story. For a $20 charge per person we had an amazing dinner with incredible appetizers and soups to delectible main courses and scrumptous deserts. If you are thinking about dining here - do it! But make a reservation early. We did not try the Grill room as we can get good steaks at home.
The pizza is always good in Princess, and the hamburgers at the grill are just fine. There is an International cafe in the atrium that had sandwiches and salads, they also offered gelatto for a small fee which was divine. Next to the cafe there was a coffee bar with specialty coffees all for a charge.
We chose anytime dining which I think is the smartest thing the cruiselines have done. We had to wait for maybe 20 minutes at the most, but we enjoyed a cocktail or some casino games while we waited so it was not an inconvenience for us.
The first three days of the cruise the buffet food was served to you by the cruise staff in order to try to keep the place germ free. You still went through the buffet line but could not touch anything. Everything, right down to the butter was placed on your plate by a server. The created a bit of a line, and there were fewer bussers and beverage servers, but it was fine by me. Keep the place free of germs. I would rather wait a bit than catch a nasty bug on my vaca. On the fourth day they lifted the restriction and we were free to pass our germs around.
The casino - I called it rinky-dink. They had all the table games, some slots, a slot tourny and a poker tourny on the days at sea. I did not see people winning until the last few days of the cruise and then there were several $1000 winners, a $5000 winner, and my hubby came home with some of their money. Smoking is allowed in the casino, but they did have one no smoking night.
The cruise staff: Amazing. All so friendly, from the moment you step on board to your last breakfast you are always greeted with a smile wherever you go. I never ran across a rude cruise employee the entire week.
The shops are the same so nothing new there. They did not have the big sales they used to on the days at sea where they offered loose gems, or specialty jewelry, or towels, bags, etc. part of that was the noro virus and part was they were just eliminated. They did have a few big sales the last day of t shirts and other souvenirs, and they had Bijoux Terner for one day. If you are not familiar it is accessories for $10. Watches, scarves, evening purses, and in my opinion it is junk and it is sold an almost every airport in the US.
I will say the prices on jewelry and watches on board were the same or cheaper than the islands! I know because price compared Philip Stein watches - the same as on St. Thomas.
The entertainment was okay, nothing special. We did not attend anything in the Princess theatre, but did go to one of the comedy shows. He was amusing. They do offer movies under the stars all day and into the evening with decent movies like Moneyball, The Help, War Horse. Nothing to say about the bar entertainers just that they had some.
Excursions: we did the St Johns honeymoon bay snorkle tour (fabulous) and the town tour and Governors beach on Grand Turk (my advice - go straight to the beach and enjoy the crystal clear waters and soft waves).
If you are looking for jewelry or watches then St Martin and St thomas are for you. But be prepared for the onslaught of shopkeepers trying to get you in their store.
Overall the cruise was wonderful. The islands were beautiful, the weather was way better than home, and every cruise I have been on is still the most relaxing vacation I take. I will probably think twice about sailing Princess again. I am still trying to determine the benefits of being a frequent cruiser. Maybe I will give Royal Caribbean another try.