Traveled as a couple on this 18 day "Brazilian Adventure", going out of Ft. Lauderdale, through the Southern Caribbean, down to Brazil and ending up in Rio (on the last Carnival day). As always, my wife and I had a blast and a ... Read More
Traveled as a couple on this 18 day "Brazilian Adventure", going out of Ft. Lauderdale, through the Southern Caribbean, down to Brazil and ending up in Rio (on the last Carnival day). As always, my wife and I had a blast and a great experience. However, it is hard not to reminisce about how much better the quality of food and service on Princess were in the past - but such are our times, and we know for a fact, that it is no different on other cruise lines, including the so called "luxury cruise lines" - so we adapt and adjust and still love cruising.
As always the worst part of the cruise. Arrived at 1:30PM and encountered two lines, a huge line wrapping around the back of the embarkation building and a shorter one - and of course the long line was for "preferred boarding" (Elite, Platinum and suite guests) - and so our "escape completely" did not include escaping moving slowly in a long queue in the heat and sun of Ft Lauderdale. The only relief from the usual dread of standing in a long line and listening to order-barking-officials/volunteers ot whatever they are, were to see the DYKWIA people briskly walking up to the beginning of the queue waving their priority BP, only to be shown to the w-a-y back (that you couldn’t see because it wrapped around the building) by the line police. Once inside the building (30+ minutes), things as usual went smoother, and our check-in clerk was friendly enough, and we were soon on the ship.
Ruby Princess while laid out like the other Grand Class ships is truly beautiful as stated by many, very well kept up, with all the familiar mile posts on the various levels of the Piazza. With our last cruise being on the Royal P. (which we loved) - we did enjoy the wrap- around promenade deck (sort of - going up one deck in the front) and the central staircase. But the ship was in as good a shape as we had experienced on any Princess ship.
We had a PH suite, the only available when we booked, and being used to aft suites with huge balcony's, we knew the PH balcony would be smaller and narrower (basically being the size of 2 balcony staterooms balcony). True enough, it was a little crammed, but we were able to have comfortable meals on the balcony for 2 – w would not cut it) and we learned to live with it. The inside was standard suite size and furnishing, not quite sure what we were paying premium price (+$2,000/p) for compared to other suites like the VS.
Our stateroom attendant was very attentive and discreet, did a good job trying to please us and keeping the suite tidy in the context of having to cover a lot of staterooms and being worked very hard. With that he did a great job. Laundry was included in the suite benefit, but a note on the desk when we first entered alerted us to the fact that laundry turn-around was likely to be “72+” hours due to the "great demand" - Translation: high number of Elites on this journey. Room service was excellent, and as we always tip room service generously (in Cash), we were only served by 2 different room service waiters (who, I am sure, pulled seniority to bring things to us) and always went out of their way to present the food nicely and show appreciation for our tips. Canopies arrived punctually if we remembered to order them every day. We were called daily by someone who wanted to make sure we had reservations for our dinner, which was a nice touch, but far from the absolute pleasure of having a Suite-only-concierge lounge on the Royal with special coffees, foods and orange juice ad libitum 24h/7 with dedicated concierges in that suite there only to to take care of our every want and need. Getting fruit, and fruit we liked, turned out to be very difficult on the Ruby. There was no door order tab provided – even when requested, and when it came down to the sad kiwis and apples lingering at the bottom of our bowl, they were just sitting there getting sadder by the day. I asked our stateroom attendant for a fruit order form to no avail, and finally made one up myself, punched a hole in it and hung it out in the evening – that helped, even though we still got small portions, including of fruits we did not put on the list, and missing fruit (like bananas) that we did want– and thus continued to be a minor irritant throughout the journey.
Breakfast in Sabatini
We do like the upgraded food, espressos and juices (including mimosas) in Sabatini at their suites only breakfast in the morning. Still feel the pomp-and-circumstances of presenting the menu every morning is over the top when it hasn't been changed since these breakfasts started years ago, meaning that we know every single item on the menu by heart having sailed in suites on many Princess sailings now. But the food is good as they truly make it to order, with whatever twist you desire, whereas the in-suite breakfast, while fancy, is a little more generic. The obligatory over-the-top Serbian waiter complimenting the women for merely existing was on hand as usual - which does get to be a little old (for the man at least!!)
Dinner in the main dining room
It took us a week before we found "our table" in Michelangelo - and while we really appreciated the helpfulness of the head waiter (Francesco) and our waiter (Rhona) and assistant waiter (Hilton), and while the food at times was great, we were disappointed by the food overall seemingly having gotten a click down in quality compared to last year/the Royal. Turkey dishes had proliferated, and the more exotic dishes becoming more rare. No lobster night for the first time in 10 years – “surf and turf” the closest resemblance. Often the garnish was inedible (and unidentifiable), and even though I was dutifully asked how I wanted my high end meat cooked, whether I said "rare" or "medium rare", it didn’t matter, it always arrived "well done". The breadbasket had been downgraded to only have 2-3 different kinds of rolls, not as fresh baked and delicious as we remember them (and more of the same (I am sure) of dry-as-a-bone bread sticks that looked and felt to be identical to those on our last cruise. But we did enjoy our dinners, if not because of the food, then because of the service, banter with the waiter/assistant waiter and ambience. The Head waiter of Michelangelo was very gracious, and arranged for us to have the same table every evening at 7:00 PM independent of the dine line, and the fact the time was out of “sync” with the seatings, and we truly appreciated that (we did feel our suite “priority” came in handy here). We always sign up for the Chef’s table (and always get selected) and as always, enjoy the greatly upgraded food and paired drinks, part of that experience, as well as being able to commiserate with the Maître Di and Executive Chef.
Horizon court food was a mixed bag as well. Sometimes good, especially the salads, sometimes a bust when having unexciting soups and ethnic/geographic themed main dishes which were not appetizing to those not a fan of the theme, with no alternatives if not into the theme. Just not like the “old days” (and not like on the Royal) – but adequate – that is the word: adequate and edible in a pinch. “Bland” as a general theme.
For as long as we have cruised, we have watched one production show (on our first on the Sea Princess back in the day) and didn’t like it, and never got into that – so we can’t comment on that on the Ruby. Comedians, magicians and jugglers usually are on right in the middle of our dinner (either too early or too late), so we didn’t see any of those either. But we loved the game shows and cruise-staff entertainments. In particular Kess and Charles were in OHO as funny as can be individually, and hilarious together. As groupies, we followed all the games, quizzes and events they were involved in, and that was plenty entertainment for us.
Did not have good experience with this. When we lost electricity in most of our stateroom (including a pitch dark bathroom) – the agent at the service desk had great difficulty hiding his annoyance when we “interrupted him” reporting this – did get fixed within a few hours though, but had to take a shower inb the dark after a sweaty excursion prior to dinner.
I had the “all inclusive beverage package” which for the most part worked fine, and with the bartenders at my most frequented bars quickly learning my cruise card ID and preferences. However, there were a few bartenders who would not speak a word after you gave your order and pretty much appeared quite unfriendly, however, that was clearly a minority, with most being very attentive and interactive. But when you stick out for being unfriendly on Princess you do get remembered!
We are suckers for Spa services, one of our “vices” when cruising. The spa area and services were no different than other Princess cruises – you quickly learn who to pick and who not to, and we as usual enjoyed this part of the cruise
The fitness area was by-and-large underequipped, and we often had to waiting for TM, elliptical or bicycle. The weight and machine choices were adequate, but far from being as elaborate as on the Royal – but most of the time I was able to put in my 1 hour of cardio and 1 hour of weights/machines per day without too many problems.
An absolutely disgrace! – Despite getting 500 minutes for free (elite/suite) – never were able to use them. The connection consistently was so slow that pages consistently expired and you had to start over. Was only able to connect to my simple work-email within an hour twice (out of 5) when I finally gave up using time and frustration on this exercise in futility. It is a disgrace that you can not connect to a simple email server without using hours and being kicked out constantly because of “timed out”. And we did disconnect pictures and never tried to send anything but a simple email. Instead joined hundreds at the cruise terminal at our destinations, paying a few dollars to get the same emails done in 30 minutes that hours on Princess failed to do. Shame on Princess to narrow the bandwidth and basically taking money for fictitious internet connection. (Every day for duration of the 18 days cruise, there were a l-o-n-g line of people with all sorts of devices at the Internet cafe not looking too happy!
Very few choices, basically sucked for our destinations – no other word, very few, and mostly “Scenic bus drives” of one sort or another. Set up much more interesting (and cheaper I am sure) excursions through Costco including SCUBA diving that Princess didn’t offer at all despite being at some of the best diving spots in the Caribbean, and a Carnival street party tour in Rio through guide discussed in the roll call, which turned out to be an absolute highlight of the cruise – absolutely riveting and fantastic, has to be experienced, no pictures or video can accurately depict the energy and fun of these mass carnival street parties for the ordinary Brazilians. Princess offered nothing related to the carnival going on in Salvador, Santos and Rio, only the same tired “scenic city highlight tours”.
Chose a Princess disembark tour which was OK, mostly to make sure we saw some of Rio and had our luggage safely transported to the airport with ouyr flight leaving at 21:30P. Once there, they had put our luggage nicely on carts and the day was actually better than expected, seeing the stock highlights of the big C statue and Sugar Loaf Mountain with a surprisingly nice lunch intertwined. Thus, disembarkment was as if you went on any Princess excursion, meeting in the restaurant and being herded when the “bla-Bla” on the walkie-talkie said so.
A great cruise on a great ship with hick-ups as mentioned, and an acknowledgement of the ever (however thinly) slicing away at food quality and consistently good service. But having no illusions that it is different on any other cruise line, it is what it is – and we learn to live with it. Paying $15,000 for 2 for the cruise, and $5,000 for onboard activities for a total of 20K I did – again – explore Seaborn, Silversea and RSS to see if the time had come to re-try the grass on the other side of the fence, but when looking in detail at the reviews and remembering our own not too good experience on RSS, we have reconciled, that with warts and all, Princess still seem to hit what we like about a cruise the best on the balance of scales. So yes, we did reserve our next annual cruise for March 2016 on the Grand Princess to Hawaii – for the first time in a “Grand Suite” – which we are looking forward to, as we do spend a lot of time in our suite. Since part of the problem is, that the hundreds if not thousands of Elites on the ship (and we are elite ourselves) having the exact same benefits as we had, with us staying in a $15,000 suite for a couple compared to $4,000 for an inside stateroom, I really would like to see Princess doing more of what other cruise lines like Celebrity are doing: giving more value for money to the high paying guests and in addition to Sabatini have lunch and dinner restaurants for suite guests with upgraded food – now that I would not mind paying big bucks for.