My wife and I are 60ish. This was our fifth cruise, with three different companies -- our second Princess cruise. It sailed from Ft. Lauderdale FL, from March 4 - 11 through the eastern Caribbean with four stops.
Princess managed to make the beginning of this cruise as awful as air travel. But the experience improved after a few days.
We received an email a few days before March 4, advising that embarkation was delayed to 3:00 PM due to a noro virus outbreak on the previous cruise. We had to be out of our hotel by 12:30 PM and had our shuttle pre-booked so arrived at the terminal at 12:45 PM. We walked onto the ship just after 5:00 PM -- it continued boarding for about an hour and sailed just after 6:00 PM.
We checked into a cavernous, concrete floored convention center, and were immediately issued our cruise ID cards. There were already approximately 1000 people ahead of us. The hall was segregated into two sections -- one for elite Princess clients, and the other for 'steerage', I guess. My wife and I were 'steerage', even though we'd sailed with Princess previously. There was free coffee and water, but the only food was from a concession stand. At 3:00 PM, they started embarkation, with elite members going in groups of around 50 to 100, some groups larger than others, numbered from one to ten. They took almost an hour to file out. Then the rest of the 'livestock' were invited to board in large groups, identified by letter. We were group E and started walking to the ship at 4:15 PM.
We shuffled out in a long line, approximately a quarter mile from the embarkation building. Some people elected to take shuttles for the quarter mile, giving them priority to enter the line in front of all the folks who'd walked, and who'd been in earlier ranked groups.
In the embarkation building the 3000+ passengers were herded through three security checkpoints/x-ray machines, just inside the front door. Rather than have the line come through the door and directly to the machines, they had everyone turn hard left to the back of the building and work their way to the machines via hundreds of feet of twisting rows, like you find at airport security lineups. We heard people 'mooing' in protest. It would not have made the slightest difference to walk directly to the machines from the door unless it had been raining (which it was not).
Many of us wondered why the cruise line didn't figure out a way to run us through security during the three hours we'd been sitting on our butts. We suspected it was because there was no way to hold us all in a secure zone afterwards -- would have required too many personnel to guard us.
The next bottleneck was the gangway -- in the ship, two officers photographed everyone as they came aboard.
We understood the reasons for all this and sympathized with them. But they must find a way to make the process a bit more palatable, after extra cleaning due to noro virus outbreaks. This experience was considerably worse than embarkation for all four previous cruises combined. When we talked to folks during the cruise, this topic always came up and all agreed that it was a highly unpleasant experience (unless you were an elite client in one of the early groups).
We were to be in the second seating for the dining room. Once aboard, we learned this would be 8:15 PM each evening, rather than 8:00 PM as on previous cruises. On Sunday evening, due to the late boarding, the second seating was delayed until 8:45 PM. It was actually closer to 9:00 PM by the time we were seated, so we missed the opening show in the theatre.
The 8:15 PM seating was never on time the whole week. Usually it was five to ten minutes late, but on another, it was fifteen minutes late. We missed another show in the theatre, thanks to this.
The theatre shows were all late, too. Usually just five to ten minutes. One night, after we'd skipped dessert to get a good seat in the theatre, the show was fifteen minutes late starting. We would have had plenty of time to make it, if we'd stayed for dessert.
Okay, I'm nit-picking, but this pattern was very annoying and detracted significantly from the overall cruise.
Speaking of the shows, they were generally okay -- quite typical of all our cruises. Even though we're 60ish, we found the music selection aimed at a generation older than us -- also typical. We had to smile when the cast sang 'Glow Little Glow Worm' from the early 50's -- we've heard that song on all five of our cruises. The singers and dancers had lots of energy, and we enjoyed them.
There were also shows by an illusionist and comedian -- both were really good. Tip: if you sit right in front of the comedian, you might become part of the show... :)
We learned that we had not been invited to some kind of champagne cocktail party where the Captain made some remarks. We'd only sailed with Princess once before, and learned that you have to have five cruises to be invited. On our last Holland America cruise, we were invited to this event, with only one previous HA cruise. Again, the 'steerage' feeling prevailed.
We had a balcony cabin, near the bow on deck 11 and enjoyed it very much. Many of the folks we met complained of loud rumbling noises from the ships bowels, keeping them awake at night. Our cabin was spared this, and we slept soundly.
The food was generally not as good as our other cruises. But we had six wonderful tablemates and a truly outstanding waiter. These made up for some of the other distractions that had been annoying us.
The stops were what we expected, and we enjoyed them. The weather was mostly good -- a bit cool on Sunday and Monday, but pleasant nonetheless. We didn't go ashore in the Bahamas -- it was essentially a 'beach day' only, and it was cool.
The Ruby is a strangely designed ship; in some places, you 'can't get there from here'. You have to go up or down a level or two, to get to certain dining rooms, etc. The outside promenade deck requires you to climb and descend narrow companionways at the bow, to make a complete circuit of the ship. These stairways are bottlenecks, making 'powerwalks' annoying. But the shops were nice, and the crew were very friendly and efficient. The duty free prices on the ship were generally better than ashore.
We would have liked to spend more time in the casino, but as on all our other cruises, they cater to smokers. Even on the one non-smoking night, the disgusting stench of old smoke permeated the room.
Debarkation was normal and actually quite pleasant -- lots of time for one last breakfast in the dining room. The only annoyance; there were only two courtesy telephones at Terminal 2 -- one of them was out of order. A security officer, I believe from the Ruby Princess, in a white security uniform with a name tag that said 'Chandra', made a call on the one good telephone. Apparently calling home to India, he went on for fifteen minutes after I got into line -- he was finally forced off the phone by a half dozen enraged passengers, needing it to call shuttles and so forth.
With a week to mull it over, and recover from the extreme annoyance of embarkation, the cruise was okay. The worst day cruising is almost always better than the best day working or doing chores around the house. But the combined annoyances were so unsettling that we've decided this was our last Princess Cruise.